The cry of seagulls and the sound of ships' bells and whistles mingled in the warm tropical air of coastal Florida. Taxis, limousines, and other hired cars were letting passengers out at the edges of the docks, stopping just at the border of dream vacations.
One such taxi stopped at the entrance to the docks, and an attractive couple--he, a tall, imposing man with coal black hair and piercing blue-green eyes; she, a golden-haired beauty with creamy white skin and shining blue eyes--climbed out of the cab and awaited the unloading of their luggage. "Mr. Cranston," Margo Lane said, "this is positively scandalous."
Lamont Cranston gave her a mischievous smile. "It's not too late to turn back," he offered.
"Not on your life. But I wonder what New York Society will say about notorious playboy Lamont Cranston taking his latest trophy on a Caribbean cruise."
He put on his best stung-by-accusation look. "I will have you know that is a dreadful reputation..."
"...which you strive mightily to uphold."
"True." He tipped the cabbie, who had finished unloading their luggage onto the porter's cart. "As I recall," he continued, "this vacation was your idea."
"You asked what I wanted for my birthday," she replied.
"So I did." He smiled broadly. "It is scandalous, isn't it? An unmarried man and woman, together on a vacation? Dangerous territory for both of our reputations."
She giggled. "In case you haven't figured it out yet...I like things a little dangerous."
They kissed. "Happy birthday, Margo. I hope it's everything you wanted, and more."
"A week with you, out of New York, away from the shadows...it should be wonderful."
"Then let's get started."
Arm in arm, they headed up the gangplank marked Tropical Blossom.
Moments later, the porter finished unloading Lamont and Margo's luggage in their neighboring First Class cabin suites. Lamont offered a generous tip to the porter, who nodded his thanks and departed.
Alone in his suite, Lamont stretched tiredly. As badly as he hated to admit it, he needed this vacation. Being the sentinal of the shadows was a rough job, and very stressful. But it had taken several broad hints from Margo that they both needed some kind of respite from the never-ending stream of problems in New York to get him to finally take action, to plan this trip as part of her birthday present.
It was, indeed, scandalous for the two of them to go away together. Proper society men and women who were only dating did not plan joint vacations, and especially not to romantic destinations; even those couples who everyone knew were doing everything married couples did had to maintain at least the illusion of propriety. Good thing that neither of them really cared about protecting their image. His image as New York's most notorious playboy could hardly tarnish any further, of course, but her reputation as the odd debutante with the murky past and the certifiably loony family was also hardly sterling. Fortunately, they were both able to look past the labels and deep into each other's souls...and find the soulmate they'd both searched their whole lives for. What others said mattered not one bit; they had each other, and were deliciously happy for it.
She'd only placed one condition on joining him for this vacation: The Shadow had to stay home. She'd been adamant about that; this was to be a getaway for Lamont and Margo, not an excuse to pick up The Shadow's operations and move them to another destination. No hunting bad guys, no mind clouding, no hypnotic suggestions--none of it, she'd said. So, he'd put a damper on his normally active psyche and left behind the dark clothes, the hat and cloak, the red scarf, the chrome pistols. The only reminder of his other identity was the huge silver fire opal ring that adorned his left hand--and, with them well out of range of the transponder that Burbank used to send the frequency that made the stone glow, it seemed unlikely it would be anything but decorative jewelry this week.
Opening the steamer trunk the porter had delivered, Lamont began unpacking his clothes. He pulled out one suit, then moved toward what appeared to be a closet and opened the door.
Instead, another door, handleless, sat in the doorframe.
On a hunch, he knocked.
The handleless door opened, and Margo smiled at him. "Just now finding out it's not a closet?" she teased.
"I certainly did not expect this," he commented with a smile.
"Well, we did ask for adjoining cabins."
"So we did." He put on his best stern expression. "Scandalous. Absolutely scandalous."
"Whatever will people say?" she returned, equally haute.
"Ask me if I really care." He tossed the suit aside and pulled her into his arms.
They kissed deeply, fully, practically drinking each other in with every touch of their lips.
A knock at Lamont's door got their attention. They pulled apart and both sighed. "Even at sea, we can't get a moment's peace," she lamented.
He shook his head. "Don't move," he said, then headed over to the door to his cabin. "Who is it?" he called.
"The chief steward, Mr. Cranston," a British-accented voice returned from the other side.
Lamont opened the door. "Yes?"
"Terribly sorry to bother you, sir," the steward returned, "but Captain Baskerville requests the honor of your company at dinner this evening in the State Room, eight o-clock."
"I take it Miss Lane is also invited?"
"Yes, sir. I can deliver the message for you, if you like..."
"No, don't bother. We'll be there." He started to turn away, then turned back to the steward. "Oh, one more thing..." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a $20. "It's been a rough few weeks...and I could really use some peace and quiet."
The steward nodded knowingly. "I'll do my best, sir."
"Thank you." He closed the door again and returned to Margo, who was watching him from the adjoining doorway. "Now," he said, putting his arms around her, "where were we?"
"You didn't hypnotize him," she noted.
"No, I didn't. I promised you The Shadow would stay home this week."
She smiled. "You are wonderful."
"And you are irresistible." He pulled her close once more, and they once more fell into a rich, romantic kiss.
As the passion built, they both suddenly realized what was happening and stopped. For a long moment, they pulled back to look at one another.
"Remind me again of why we have separate cabins," Lamont remarked.
"The same reason I sleep in a guest bedroom when I stay overnight with you," Margo returned. "The illusion of propriety."
"Ah, yes. The illusion of propriety."
She smiled. "Think I'd better finish unpacking."
Again, they stood there in the doorway silently, looking at each other, as if trying to make a decision.
"On the count of three," Margo said finally, "we'll both take a step back and close our doors."
"On three," he agreed. "One..."
They each took a step backward. Then, they laughed.
"See you for dinner," Lamont told her.
"I'll be waiting," she replied.
They closed their doors.
Even on a ship full of handsome couples, they still made a striking pair. Lamont and Margo, now dressed to the nines, headed for the State Room arm in arm, seemingly as enchanted with each other as a pair of newlyweds.
So enchanted, in fact, that they didn't hear the giggling couple coming up behind them until they all collided.
"Goodness!" the man said in a light British accent. "Terribly sorry, friend--we weren't paying attention..."
"Neither were we," Lamont admitted. "Are you all right?"
"Just fine," the dark-haired woman responded, then looked at who she'd collided with. "Lamont Cranston," she said, a knowing smile on her face.
It took Lamont a moment to recognize her. "Alexandra Donatello," he replied, an equally knowing smile.
"Doyle," she corrected, holding out her left hand, its third finger adorned with a dazzling diamond and gold wedding band. "Mrs. Arthur Doyle." She hugged the man next to her, who was now eyeing Lamont suspiciously.
"Ah," Lamont replied. "Congratulations."
"Thank you." She shook her head, as if amazed to see him. "It's been years."
Margo cleared her throat.
"I'm sorry," Lamont said, turning to Margo. "Margo Lane, Alexandra Dona...I mean, Doyle, and her husband Arthur."
"How do you do, Miss Lane?" Arthur replied, extending his hand to Margo.
"How do you do?" Margo responded in kind.
"Miss Lane," Alexandra nodded.
"Mrs. Doyle," Margo answered, giving the woman a cool glance.
"So...what brings you here?" Lamont asked, trying to prevent frostbite from occurring.
"We're on our honeymoon," Alexandra gushed, giving her husband a hug. "Are you coming to dinner?"
"With the Captain? Of course."
"Good," she said in an insincere tone. "We'll talk more later." She turned to Margo. "Nice to meet you."
Margo just nodded.
The Doyles walked away, arm in arm, giggling like the newlyweds they were.
Margo looked at Lamont. "She's not blonde. I'm intrigued."
He sighed. "I was 22, she was 18, we were both filthy rich American heirs in Paris. It was the summer of 1920, and it lasted all of three months."
Margo gave him a surprised look. "Must have been a record for you."
"It was. But eventually, we both just got bored, and it ended. This is literally the first time I've seen her since." He turned her in his arms to face him. "And I'm sorry she's here because it makes you unhappy--and this is supposed to be a fun time for us."
She just smiled. "It will be. No matter what happens, it will be. We're together. That's all that matters."
They drew close to kiss.
"Young love," an older woman's voice called out. "How romantic."
They stopped where they were and turned toward the sound.
A doddering old woman, overdressed in clothes much too young for her, walked unsteadily toward them, as if she'd had way too much to drink already. "Oh, don't let me interrupt," she stated. "Far be it from me to stop the onrush of the tides of passion..."
A younger woman came up behind her and took her by the arm. "Mother, you're going the wrong way again," she scolded. "Those are windows, not the railing." She gave Lamont and Margo an apologetic glance. "I'm so sorry," she began.
"Quite all right," Lamont excused.
The woman led her mother past them, steering her toward the staircase at the end of the hall. "Mother, you really must learn some decorum," they heard her say as they went down the long corridor.
Lamont and Margo turned to one another once more. "You meet the most interesting people on cruises," Margo commented.
"Indeed," he replied, then offered his arm. "Shall we go meet some more?"
She took his arm. "Let's."
Traditionally, dinner in the State Room with the ship's Captain on the first night of a cruise was a privilege reserved for the select passengers, the elite of the social elite aboard this vessel. Not surprisingly, being on the invitation list was a highly sought-after honor, which Margo was growing used to receiving when with Lamont. The Cranston name carried a lot of weight, and Lamont played the part of bon viveur perfectly, able to move in and out of social settings with the greatest of ease. It always struck Margo how smoothly Lamont handled the demands of what amounted to two separate personae: The Social Fixture and The Shadow. It had taken her a long time to realize that the two extremes were just vastly different aspects of his complex personality, aspects he played up or suppressed at will. The fact that he could carry off either act at all, much less both extremes, spoke volumes about his confidence in himself and his abilities.
"Sorry we're late," Lamont apologized as he and Margo approached.
"Not at all," the British-accented Captain replied, rising from his chair and extending his right hand. "Captain Ronald Baskerville. You are Mr. Cranston, I take it?"
"Yes." Lamont reached across to shake Baskerville's hand. "This is my companion, Miss Margo Lane."
"How do you do?" Margo said, extending her right hand.
Captain Baskerville took her hand and gallantly gave it a kiss. "Enchanted, my dear."
She smiled graciously in reply.
The gentlemen stood as Lamont pulled out Margo's chair for her, then slid it in as she sat down. He took his seat alongside her, and the wine steward poured them each a glass of white wine.
"You're just in time, actually," Baskerville commented. "We were just completing introductions. Your dinner companions this evening are the famous British illusionist, Arthur Doyle, and his new bride Alexandra..."
"Yes, we've met," Alexandra acknowledged, a cool tinge in her voice.
Lamont felt Margo's right hand take his left one firmly. He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze.
If Baskerville noticed the chill, he let it slip right by. "The famous novelist Delilah Coventry, and her daughter Alicia," he continued, with a nod to the older woman and her younger companion.
Lamont gave the two women a nod.
"And Boston attorney Kennedy Van Dyke and his wife, Rosalie," Baskerville finished.
Lamont raised an eyebrow. "Of Morehouse, Richards, and Van Dyke?" he asked.
"Why, yes," Van Dyke responded, impressed. "And you're Theodore Cranston's son, aren't you?"
"I am indeed."
"I knew your father. He was quite a businessman."
"So I've been told." He took a sip of his wine to hide any further reaction.
Margo didn't miss the edge in Lamont's voice. He seldom talked about his parents; what little she knew of them was that they were the classic cold and aloof upper-class parents. Father and son had been at loggerheads almost constantly--almost certainly due to the fact that both were unawakened projectors, with the strong Cranston will and temper that could overwhelm almost anyone but the other man. Yet she knew one of his greatest regrets was that they had not lived to see how he'd changed--how he'd become stronger, more mature, less selfish. He often commented how envious he was of Margo's close relationship with her father. She gave his hand a supportive squeeze.
"So," Rosalie continued, "what do you do, Mr. Cranston?"
He smiled mysteriously. "Anything I want to."
Alexandra laughed haughtily. "That's an understatement," she pronounced. "I believe you once told me, Lamont, that the Cranstons were richer than God."
"I think The Almighty probably has a better investment portfolio nowadays," Lamont returned.
"Ah, the lifestyle of the idle rich," Delilah commented. "Deliriously decadent--and fruitful material for romantic fantasies."
"Oh, please," Alexandra groaned.
Alicia patted her mother's arm. "Mother," she said gently, "I don't think most of these people are readers of romance novels."
"Their loss," Delilah stated. "There is nothing wrong with the world that a good, healthy dose of passion won't cure."
"That's a wonderful attitude," Margo chimed in.
As the first course was delivered, Lamont turned to Arthur. "So, you're an illusionist, Mr. Doyle?" he asked.
"Yes," Arthur replied. "Semi-retired, though. Now I just give the occasional parlor performance. I've had my fill of traveling from city to city, pulling rabbits out of hats, and the like."
"Now that's one trick I've always enjoyed," Margo noted. "How does one pull a rabbit out of a hat?"
Arthur put on his best serious expression. "First, Miss Lane, one must get the rabbit into the hat. After that, the rest is easy."
The rest of the meal went by uneventfully. Conversation settled into the meaningless chit-chat that society dinners were famous for, though Arthur Doyle did liven things up a bit by making a dinner roll disappear. Lamont settled into his people-watching mode, keeping careful mental notes on the personalities at the table. Right away, he could see the contempt Alexandra Doyle had for most of the people at the table, particularly Delilah Coventry, who seemed to pay her no mind as she regaled the table with quotations from her novels. Kennedy Van Dyke appeared to hold some kind of sway over Alexandra, though; she almost deferred to him on several occasions and even referred to him as "Uncle Kennedy" at one point. Alicia Coventry was clearly embarrassed by her mother's brash and often crude comments, and had found a sympathetic conversationalist in Margo, who he knew was bored to tears by this sort of formal occasion. Rosalie Van Dyke, like him, was a people-watcher, and she seemed particularly enchanted with Alexandra's dazzling jewelry, which flashed and flared as she conversed with her hands. Arthur seemed completely out of his element, overwhelmed with the entire society swirl.
Through it all, Lamont resisted the temptation to drift outside his own mind and into the others'. It had become a habit over the years, ever since The Tulku had opened his telepathic senses. He had quickly discovered how easy it was to assess a partner, or rival, or opponent, and was amazed at how great an advantage one could gain just by probing someone else's thoughts and gaining access to their strengths, their weaknesses, their likes, their dislikes, their hot buttons. The Tulku taught it as a defensive technique, but Lamont put it to maximum use regularly as an offensive technique--once you gained access to your opponents' skills, you could attack them more effectively. Mindful of his promise to Margo, however, he kept his observations confined to the surface level presented before him.
As dinner ended, the couples adjourned to the ballroom. Margo hooked her arm around Lamont's. "Feeling blind?" she whispered as they left the table.
He frowned, as that was exactly what he'd just been thinking. There was something inherently unfair about this; she was almost openly utilizing her abilities, while he was having to work to keep a tight rein on his. But, he reminded himself, a promise was a promise. "It does make people-watching more of a challenge."
She smiled mischievously. "I think you've just forgotten what it's like to only have five senses."
He nodded. "It might be good for me to be reminded every so often."
She gave his arm a squeeze. "I know it's hard."
"I'll manage." He turned to her as they reached the ballroom. "May I have this dance, Miss Lane?"
"I would be honored, Mr. Cranston."
They joined the Doyles and several other couples already on the dance floor.
It was odd how fast time moved while dancing, Margo thought. Only the occasional glance at the grandfather clock across the room gave any indication of how long they'd been on the floor. She felt so free, so light on her feet, that it hardly seemed possible over an hour had passed since dinner. Part of it had to do with her dance partner; Lamont was not only a very good dancer, but so physically strong that he could lift her and twirl her through the air with almost no effort on his part, eliciting "oohs" and "ahs" from the rest of the dancers as they whirled about the floor. But just as large an influence on the wonderful time she was having was the giddiness they both felt as they danced together, never losing contact with each other, revelling in the joy of being together. It seemed like a smile never left either of their expressions as they looked into each other's eyes and let the music take them places.
A man tapped Lamont's shoulder. "May I cut in?" he asked.
Lamont turned to the man and started to tell him no, then looked amazed. "Dan? Dan Roth?" he said, breaking into a broad smile of recognition.
"Long time, no see," Dan replied, equally pleased to see a familiar face.
The two men shook hands. "I'll say," Lamont laughed. "Two years, easily." He turned to Margo. "Margo Lane, Special Agent Dan Roth, F.B.I. Dan and I went to school together."
"How do you do?" Margo smiled, extending her right hand.
"Wishing I was as lucky in finding a dance partner as Lamont," he complimented, gently shaking her hand.
She started to offer thanks, then gasped as she looked at his hand...upon which was an agent's fire opal ring.
He noticed her looking at it, then spotted hers on her left hand. "Matched set," he observed, looking toward Lamont. "Some guys have all the luck."
"It just takes practice," Lamont returned, then gestured off the dance floor.
The three of them found an unoccupied table and three chairs, and sat down to rest for a moment. "So," Lamont said, "I wasn't aware the F.B.I. sent agents on pleasure cruises."
"They don't," Dan replied. "I'm on vacation, hoping to meet the girl of my dreams." He looked across the dance floor toward Arthur and Alexandra, who made a striking pair as they stepped through one formal dance after another.
"That one's taken," Lamont noted.
"So she is. Alexandra Donatello and Arthur Doyle, in the society whirlwind courtship of the year." He turned back to the couple seated with him. "So, what are you doing here? Bored with New York this time of year?"
"Not exactly. This is my lady love's birthday present." He gave Margo's hand a squeeze.
Dan smiled at Margo. "You're to be congratulated, Miss Lane. You've actually tamed him. I didn't think that was possible."
"It just takes practice," she smiled back.
"Oh!" Alexandra's voice shouted from the dance floor, clearly angry.
All heads turned toward the sound.
Alexandra was looking at the doorway at a somewhat plain woman standing by herself, a smug expression on her face.
Alexandra stormed off the floor in a huff, Arthur on her heels. He said something to the woman at the doorway, then headed after his wife.
The woman in the doorway smirked, then crossed the dance floor and snatched a champagne glass off a passing waiter's tray.
"What was that all about?" Margo asked.
"That," Dan observed, "is the ex-Mrs. Doyle."
"Really?" Lamont noted.
"Well, not exactly. Her name is Valerie Bonfamile. She was Doyle's stage assistant for years. They were rumored to be engaged, but he met Alexandra at a charity benefit in London a few weeks ago, and all that changed. If you believe the gossip, she's followed them everywhere since the wedding, turning up at every stop along the way on this honeymoon. Apparently, they thought they'd lost her when they came on this cruise, because Alexandra certainly looked shocked to see her."
"There you go, then," Lamont laughed. "She's unattached, and lonely."
Dan gave Lamont a sharp glare. "I don't think so," he said. "Hell hath no fury, etc., etc." He looked at his watch. "Good grief," he noted, "it's almost midnight. Think I'll go catch some shut-eye. We make port in Bermuda tomorrow. Should be fun." He shook hands with them both, then excused himself.
Lamont turned to Margo. "You look sleepy," he noted.
"It's been a busy day," she agreed, suppressing a yawn. "I never knew I could dance for hours."
"Neither did I. But then, the right partner makes time fly."
"You're silly." She squeezed his hand. "Would you be so kind as to escort me to my cabin?"
"I would be delighted." He offered his arm, and they walked off together.
Back in his cabin, Lamont tossed his tuxedo jacket onto a chair, undid his tie and the top buttons of his dress shirt, then made his way into the bedroom and dropped onto the bed, completely exhausted. He felt a tension headache coming on and closed his eyes, trying to deflect the pain away. No doubt the strain of keeping a much tighter than normal rein on his powerful psyche was catching up to him, and he longed to just let his mind go, let the day's tension drain away. But with Margo's sensitive receptive mind so close, he knew he couldn't; a burst of raw psychic energy that strong would probably overwhelm her. Maybe a walk on deck would do him some good, allow him to vent his mind where it wouldn't hurt anyone...
A gentle knock at the adjoining door got his attention. "Yes?" he called.
"Lamont? Are you all right?" Margo returned, concern in her tone.
"I'm fine." He pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to stem the pain behind his eyes.
Another tapping. "Lamont, open this door...please."
Sighing, he got up and opened the door.
Margo's worried expression looked back at him. "You've got a headache," she immediately observed.
He nodded. "It'll pass. I'm just tired."
She smiled indulgently at him. He was trying so hard not to worry her. "Want some aspirin?"
He shrugged. That was, of course, how everyone else dealt with headaches. "That might help."
She handed him the bottle of aspirin she had behind her back.
He took two tablets and handed the bottle back to her.
She shook her head. "Keep it. You might need it later."
He stroked her cheek softly and smiled. "Have I told you that I love you?"
She reached up and gently brushed stray strands of hair off his forehead. "In so many ways."
They kissed...tenderly at first, then deeply, fully, intensely, as if they never wanted the kiss to end.
Reluctantly, they both pulled back, once again mindful of how strong their passion was. "Careful, darling," Margo commented. "If we keep this up, we will shatter our carefully crafted illusion of propriety."
"I normally revel in shattering illusions," Lamont replied. "But we're both exhausted. And I know I'm not exactly thinking clearly right now."
She nodded. "On three?"
"On three. One..."
Neither one made a move.
"I think three came and went," she remarked.
"So it did," he returned.
Still, neither of them moved.
Finally, he pinched the bridge of his nose again as the headache returned.
"I think that's my cue to say you need some sleep," Margo joked.
"Probably," he admitted. He took her left hand and gave it a gallant kiss. "Good night, Margo."
She smiled. "Good night, Lamont."
They stepped back and closed their doors.
Parapsychologists who worked to produce a scientific basis for the belief in psychic phenomena speculated that telepaths, clairvoyants, precognizants, and other so-called "adepts" used more of their brains than the average person did. In particular, they speculated that one node on the frontal lobe was responsible for intuitive thought; the same speculation held that this node was extremely well-developed and extremely sensitive in psychics, who used it as a focal point for as-yet-undiscovered mental energies to read minds, see visions, predict the future. And Lamont Cranston thought his frontal lobe was going to explode if he didn't let those energies drain somehow.
He'd been lying still in the dark for almost an hour, trying to use the biofeedback techniques The Tulku had taught him to calm his mind, but there was just too much energy still there, still swirling through his mind. When he had been in training in Tibet, The Tulku would often drive him until he dropped with mental and physical exercises designed to strengthen and focus his mind and build his endurance; a side effect of the exercises, however, was to provide a sort of relief valve for the incredible reservoir of projective telepathic energy that he possessed. The Tulku used to tell him that he could always tell when Lamont had not exercised his mind enough during the day, because Lamont would end up with powerfully psychic nightmares caused by his mind seeking some form of release. Activities as The Shadow normally provided that release because of the mental and physical demands of hypnotic telepathy, but it had been two days since they'd left New York, two days since he'd last used those powers.
He sat up, rubbed his temples to try to calm his swirling thoughts again, then got out of bed and dressed. There was no sense in lying in bed any longer--too much risk of either falling asleep and into nightmares, or letting go too soon and hurting Margo. He headed out of his cabin and up to the main deck.
The breeze sweeping across the deck made the night air cool, but not unpleasantly so. Lamont stopped in the ship's bar for a snifter of cognac, then came back out on deck to stargaze.
"Another lonely soul?" a woman's British-accented voice called to him.
He looked across the deck.
The woman who had so upset Alexandra and Arthur earlier was also indulging in a late night visit to the bar, judging from the drink she held in her hand as she leaned across the railing further down the deck from him. Intrigued, he walked toward her. "Miss...Bonfamile, isn't it?" he asked.
"It is," she returned. "I didn't get your name, though."
"Lamont Cranston." He extended his right hand.
They exchanged a handshake. "I remember you now," she commented. "You were one of Alexandra Donatello's many boyfriends." She smiled. "Paris, 1920, wasn't it?"
He looked more intrigued now. "It was indeed. I'm afraid I don't remember you, though."
"I didn't think you did. Most people don't. I was the Plain Jane to Alexandra's dazzling debutante."
Lamont resisted once more the temptation to reach into her mind and find out why she'd come. He'd heard of men who followed their former girlfriends around, but never of a woman who was the pursuer. And that made him curious. "Quite an entrance you made this evening," he commented instead.
"Ah, that. You noticed." Valerie laughed. "I suppose you've heard all the gossip, too."
He swirled the cognac in its snifter and took a sip. "I tend not to put much stock in gossip. I prefer to hear the truth for myself."
"Truth." She took a swig of the mixed drink she held. "The truth is that Alexandra Donatello is a snake. She seduced my Arthur away from me. And to think I introduced them."
"So what are you trying to do--seduce him back?"
"Just making certain he doesn't forget me."
"Why not? She ruined my life. I want him to realize that he can do better." She took another swig of the drink. "Mr. Cranston, have you ever wanted to kill someone?"
"Many times." Another swirl of the snifter, another swallow of cognac.
"Then you understand how powerful a force revenge is." She pulled a snub-nosed .22 pistol out of her pocket.
He looked slightly alarmed. "Feel a need to be armed?" he tried to joke.
"Only for protection." She took another drink. "There are times, though, 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 looked at her for a long moment, trying to decide whether or not she was serious. "There's an old Chinese saying that says he who seeks revenge had best dig two graves."
She downed the rest of her drink. "Good thing I'm not an old Chinese, then." She hurled the glass across the ship.
It crashed against the deck and shattered violently.
"There," she said. "I feel better now. Good night, Mr. Cranston." With that, she walked away.
Lamont watched her depart, then rubbed his eyes and frowned. The headache was back, this time with a vengeance. He really needed to vent his mind now before he went mad.
Finding a chaise lounge, he reclined on it, looked up at the night sky, and let every barrier around his psyche fall away.
The burst of energy that shot out as he did shattered the snifter in his hand. Lamont barely noticed. It felt so good to let go. The tension, the headache, the strain vanished as wave after wave of psychic power poured forth from his mind, carrying him along with them. He floated in a stream of thoughts rushing all around him, feeling the ripple effects as his telepathic energies projected further and further. The sensations that came back were like echoes, thought patterns detected and reflected back to him. The late night revelers...the restless sleepers...the young lovers...
And then, something darker engulfed him like a tidal wave...something malevolent...something evil. It was a feeling of hatred, revulsion, resentment, that seemed to have no central source. He could sense jealousy, envy, greed, lust...and death.
Lamont immediately snapped out of the trance, the psychic barriers reinstating themselves to insulate him from further mental assaults. "My God," he whispered.
Someone touched him from behind. He leapt out of the lounger and whirled around.
"Easy!" Margo said, taken aback by his reaction.
Lamont breathed a sigh of relief. "You startled me," he said.
"No kidding." She looked at the stem of the broken snifter he still held between his fingers. "You O.K.?"
He noticed the stem and tossed the glass away in frustration. Technically, he'd broken his promise to her. He could not believe he had so little self-discipline that he couldn't have found a way to keep his mind in check even through the strain. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
She came over to him. "You let your mind go."
He nodded. "I should have been stronger than that. I can't believe I didn't try harder to push through it..."
"Sh-h." She put her arms around him and held him tightly. "I came up here to find you, to see if you were all right. I knew how badly your head was hurting...and I could not believe you were putting yourself through all of that for me. You can't believe how selfish I felt."
He put his hand under her chin and lifted it to face him. "You're not angry with me?"
She shook her head. "I've never felt so loved."
He smiled. "You are, my dear. You are." He kissed the top of her head, then held her close.
She couldn't help it. She started giggling.
"What's so funny?" he asked.
"Oh, Moe bet me that there was no way you'd last a week."
He smiled wryly. "I'll pay whatever you lost to Shrevnitz."
"Actually, he owes me $20."
He pulled back and gave her an odd look. "Oh?"
She blushed. "I didn't disagree with him. But I told him that you'd push yourself beyond the breaking point, literally cause yourself physical pain, and feel so guilty afterwards that you'd blame yourself for failing instead of me for putting such an impossible condition on you in the first place. He said that was crazy and you'd never do that."
Now he was laughing. "Shows which one of you knows me better."
Now she really looked embarrassed. "If I were you, I'd be furious at me."
"For putting a condition you knew I wouldn't be able to live up to on our vacation?"
"You must think I'm something horrible."
He took her face in his hands gently. "I think you know the answer to that."
They kissed warmly, deeply, fully, never wanting to break.
But break they did, taking a deep, cleansing breath and looking into each other's eyes again. "Ready to go back below deck?" he asked.
She hugged him. "Only if you come with me."
Arm-in-arm, they headed down to the First Class cabins.
"I guess this is good night," Lamont said as they reached her door.
"I guess it is," Margo replied.
They again kissed deeply. So deeply, in fact, that they could feel passion threatening to overwhelm them once again, and they broke apart.
"The illusion of propriety," she sighed.
"The illusion of propriety," he agreed. "Good night, Margo."
He watched as she went into her cabin, then he went into his.
No sooner had his door closed than he heard a knock at the adjoining door. He opened it.
She stood in the doorway, giving him a stern look. "All right, I've been about as patient as I can be."
He smiled and raised an eyebrow. "Are you often this forward, Miss Lane?"
She rolled her eyes. "Behave yourself." She turned serious. "I kept hoping you'd tell me why you were so startled by my coming up behind you. It is not possible for anyone to startle you...unless your mind is occupied with something strong. Your mind's a lot calmer now than it was when I found you earlier, but there's still some tension there. You were having a vision, but you snapped out of it before I saw anything. What was it?"
He looked away. "There's no way to put into words what swept over me earlier. It wasn't so much a vision as a feeling...just overwhelming darkness..."
She sought his gaze. "Let me see."
He shook his head. "No. I can't do that to you..."
"Yes, you can. Don't make me read it out of your head. And don't try to wall it off from me. If I've got as much power as you say I do, I need to learn what to do when something like this strikes."
Lamont looked at Margo for a long time. Her mind was getting stronger and more skilled with practice. She'd come so far in such a short period of time, but still...to put her through this...
"I am not afraid," she stated firmly.
"I know you're not." He took her hand. "Come with me."
She came into his room.
He led her over to the sofa and gestured for her to take a seat, then sat down next to her. "Look into my eyes," he said. "I won't let you get hurt."
"I know," she said.
Their eyes met, and the blending of their minds began.
Lamont reached out with his mind until he felt resistance, then began gently pushing against Margo's natural psychic barriers, slowly and carefully increasing the strength and frequency of the relaxing hypnotic suggestion he was projecting. This was still the hardest part--once her barriers fell, their minds meshed and melded easily. But her resistance to his hypnotic telepathy--or any outside influence--was still quite strong. In many ways, that was a good thing; it helped protect her still-developing psyche from too much stimulation all at once. But it made the beginning of this exercise a slow, difficult process.
The resistance began to break down, and his mind projected through it. Relax, Margo. Relax.
I know. He put his hand around the back of her neck, stroking her hair to soothe her. Are you certain you really want to see?
Yes. I really want to.
Then reach out to me.
Her resistance began to break down further. He could feel her mind beginning to open up, tugging gently against the edges of his own barriers. That's it, Margo. That's it. You're getting better at this.
Her mind opened wider, now pulling strongly against his protective barriers. Let me in, she urged. Let me see what you saw.
He took a deep breath, then focused the memory of that dark sensation into the forefront of his mind and opened a small portal into his psyche for her.
Suddenly, they were both experiencing that engulfing darkness--her, pulling it from his memory; him, seeing it rush into her mind.
It's so dark, her mental voice said, frightened. Oh, God, it's so dark...so heavy...so cold...Lamont...
That's enough. He closed the portal.
She was shaking. He put his arms around her, sending as strong a calming suggestion as he could. I've got you, he soothed. I'm sorry.
She took hold of his embrace and pulled it tigher around herself, trying to wrap herself in the strength of his arms and the calming frequencies he was projecting into her. That's what you saw?
What I felt. I didn't really see anything. It was just so overwhelming--so much anger, so much hatred. And then pure, raw evil all around me.
But who? Who's going to die?
I don't know. But it's definitely someone on this ship. And soon.
She was still shaking. Hold me...
He pulled her close to him. I've got you. You're all right. He laughed mentally. I tried to warn you.
Maybe next time I should listen. She sighed aloud and pulled his embrace even tighter around herself. How do you do it? If that happened to me all the time, I'd go mad.
Lots of training. Lots of practice. Lots of hours spent calming myself down after it happens. The Tulku taught me to focus in on my own heartbeat, and let the rhythm of it calm me down. It usually helps. Try it.
She tried to find the sound of her own heartbeat. I hear it. It's really pounding.
It will slow down as you relax. That's the beauty of it. The rhythm helps drive everything else out of your mind...then as you relax, it slows, which helps you relax more, until you reach a quiet, calm, safe place.
She closed her eyes, letting the pounding fill her head.
Sensing her need to find that quiet place, Lamont stopped projecting. He continued to hold her in his arms, gently stroking her hair and her back, keeping his own breathing and heartbeat as even as possible to help calm her.
"Did you know our hearts are beating together?" she whispered finally.
He put a hand on her neck and took her pulse. "So they are," he realized. "I guess we both needed that quiet, calm, safe place."
She laughed nervously. "Then why is your heart beating faster now?"
His fingers caressed her neck. "Same reason yours is."
The passion between them was becoming almost palpable. They pulled back and met each other's gaze.
"The illusion of propriety," he whispered.
"The illusion of propriety," she agreed.
Still they held each other dangerously close. "On three, we let go," he said.
"On three," she echoed. "One..."
Silence. Their eyes searched each other's gaze for some doubt, some inkling of indecision.
"I don't want to let go," Margo finally whispered.
He swept her into his arms as he stood up. "To Hell with propriety," he pronounced.
They kissed deeply and dramatically as their emotions washed over them and swept them away.
It had been a long time since Lamont had awakened with someone else in his bed. As he opened his eyes, the beauty of the woman beside him took his breath away. Even asleep, she was an angel, an exquisite thief who'd long ago made off with his heart. Awake, she had been the most fantastic lover he'd ever had. He gently reached over and brushed the hair off her cheek.
Margo stirred, then opened her eyes. "Tell me I didn't dream it," she whispered, smiling at him.
He planted a kiss on her that would have awakened Snow White.
"Oh, my God," she said, stretching, "dreams do come true."
"Mine certainly did," he agreed.
She looked absolutely incredulous at what they went through together. Her face glowed with the bliss she tried find a way to describe. "I've never...oh, God, there aren't words for it. I did not know I could feel that way ever. The way our minds connected...is it always that way for you?"
He laughed. "I have never felt anything like that," he told her. "You reached me on levels I didn't know existed. Good God." Like her, he had no words for it. It had been a sexual experience on multiple levels; as their bodies joined, so had their minds, and the joy at finding themselves so tightly knit had reached them both on an emotional level unlike any they had ever reached individually or together. He'd lost track of how many times they'd made love; it was almost one continuous explosion of pleasure that never seemed to stop...though it was not as if either of them would have ever wanted it to stop. The experience had left them breathless, psychically drained, and emotionally spent, but it had been worth every second of it. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close. "No regrets?"
"Never. For the rest of my life, I will remember last night."
They lay together quietly, enjoying the closeness of their hearts, minds, and bodies.
"We could make some more memories," she finally suggested.
"We could," he agreed. "We could also spend the day in Bermuda. We are, after all, on vacation."
"The illusion of propriety?" she teased.
"I don't give a damn about propriety," he declared. "But there is a sightseeing trip on horseback planned that we signed up for when we boarded."
"That we did." She sighed. "On three, we let go."
He smiled mischievously. "Isn't that how we got here?"
A long pause as they looked into each other's eyes. They kissed again, deeply, fully, passionately.
Finally, they broke for air. "Three," Margo said.
"Three," he agreed.
They climbed out of bed almost simultaneously. "Join me for breakfast?" he offered.
She smiled. "As if I'm letting you out of my sight." She glared at him. "And don't you dare cloud my mind and disappear on me."
Lamont looked hurt. "I am shocked that..."
"...I can figure you out so fast?"
They both smiled, then laughed, and somehow managed to resist the temptation to kiss once more.
Margo headed for the adjoining door, still open to her cabin from last night. "Nice of you to get us a four-room suite," she observed.
"Wasn't it, though?" he agreed. "Plenty of room to spread out..."
She smiled suggestively. "...and if we get bored with your bed, there's always mine." With that, she headed off to dress.
The Tropical Blossom had a beautiful solarium on the main deck where passengers could enjoy the brilliant Caribbean sun without the hazards of eating outdoors, like wind or seagulls. Seating in the solarium was limited, and this morning Lamont and Margo enjoyed a meal at one table while Alexandra and Arthur sat at another. Both couples acknowledged each other with a simple nod, then kept to themselves through the meal, seemingly enchanted with just themselves.
They were soon joined by Kennedy and Rosalie Van Dyke, who took their seats at another table. Kennedy excused himself from his wife, then came over to Alexandra and Arthur's table, carrying a small portfolio. "So sorry to interrupt," Kennedy told them, "but I have those papers I said I needed you to sign."
"Oh, yes," Alexandra said. "Please, have a seat."
Kennedy sat down in one of the chairs, then handed her the portfolio and a pen. "You don't know what a relief it is that you finally got married," he observed. "I was beginning to wonder if I'd have to take care of your father's estate forever."
"I always thought that was a silly clause in Daddy's will," she laughed. "But at least now, I can finally settle down and figure out what to do with all this stuff."
He pulled out a document. "The lease on Armstrong Towers."
She read it for a moment, then signed it. "What am I going to do with a skyscraper?" she sighed.
"I'm certain you'll figure out something, darling," Arthur returned.
Kennedy pulled out another form. "The holdings in First Bank of Chicago."
She read it over, then signed it. "I own a bank, too. At least I'll always have somewhere to put my money."
Kennedy pulled out another form. "Some miscellaneous holdings."
She read it, then stopped. "I don't recognize a lot of these."
"Just some things your father bought late in life." Kennedy's eyes drifted toward the signature line.
She kept reading. "No, I don't think my father would have invested in some of these things. Are you certain this is right?"
"Of course, my dear." His eyes once more urged her toward the bottom line.
"Uncle Kennedy," she said, becoming annoyed, "I never sign anything I don't understand."
"You're more thorough than I, love," Arthur joked. "I never read a thing."
"Really?" Kennedy asked.
Arthur shrugged. "I reckon that's why I pay my lawyer such outrageous sums of money."
"Quite a foolish attitude, if you ask me," a man's voice interjected.
The three sets of eyes at the table turned to see Dan Roth coming toward them. "I mean," he continued, "I am a lawyer, and I don't trust lawyers any further than I can throw them." He smiled at Alexandra. "You're a very wise woman not to sign anything without a full explanation, Mrs. Doyle. And only an irresponsible attorney would try to make you do otherwise...wouldn't you agree, Mr. Van Dyke?"
"Of course," Kennedy replied, not very convincingly, as he took the stack of papers. "We'll finish this later." He got up and left the table.
Dan watched Kennedy take a seat next to his wife, all the while glancing back at Dan nervously. "I hope I didn't offend him," Dan commented.
"And what if you did, Mr...?" Alexandra replied.
"Roth. Dan Roth."
They shook hands. "Care to join us?" she offered.
He spotted Lamont and Margo nearby. "No, thank you," he replied. "I already have plans."
Dan nodded a good-bye and crossed to Lamont and Margo's table.
"Tell me, Mr. Roth," Margo observed, "are you always so forward?"
"In my business, you can't afford not to be," he noted. "May I join you?"
Lamont gestured over a chair. "Please."
Dan took a seat, thanked the waiter who poured coffee for him, then looked around the room for a moment before leaning in toward the center of the table. "The sun is shining," he whispered.
Lamont and Margo gave each other a sidelong glance. "But the ice is slippery," they both answered almost simultaneously.
Dan nodded a greeting. There was something about exchanging the code that was both relaxing and nerve-racking at the same time. It meant you were among friends...but surrounded by danger.
Lamont acknowledged the nod. "What do you need?"
"A sanity check," Dan replied. "Did I just see what I think I just saw?"
"If you saw a crooked lawyer trying to cheat an heiress out of her fortune," Lamont noted, "then you saw the same thing I did."
"What was that last document?" Margo asked.
"I think I know," Dan replied. "But I won't go into it here. I can tell you, though, that you were wrong about me last night."
"In what way?" Lamont queried.
"The F.B.I. does send agents on pleasure cruises...when they think there's money laundering involved."
An exchange of glances between the lovers. I could let things take their natural course, Lamont noted.
No, you can't, she returned. One of the obligations of an agent is to help other agents in time of need.
I will make this up to you.
I'm sure we'll find a way. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze, then looked out the many windows. "What a beautiful morning," Lamont said aloud. "Think I'll go for a walk on deck. Care to join me, Margo?"
"But we were having such a nice conversation with Mr. Roth," she interjected.
"Then why don't I join you?" Dan said, picking up the hint.
The three of them left the solarium together.
"The F.B.I.'s been on this for two years now," Dan told Lamont and Margo as they walked together around the deck. "Kennedy Van Dyke's been siphoning money from the Donatello estate to pay for the drug ring Giuseppi Donatello used to run. Dirty money comes in, gets run through holding companies, and clean money comes out."
"And now Alexandra's inherited all of that," Margo realized.
"Exactly. In order to keep the operation running, Van Dyke needs her to sign over the rights to those companies and accounts. I don't think he counted on her refusing to do so."
"Why hasn't the F.B.I. moved on this?" Lamont asked.
"Because we need proof. I've been following Mrs. Doyle since the wedding, trying to see if she was involved in the money laundering. I'm now convinced she knows nothing about it. I was hoping once Mrs. Doyle came into the estate after her marriage, she'd spot the irregularities and contact someone for help. But Van Dyke's one step ahead of us. If I can get my hands on that paperwork, we've got a way to haul him in."
"But not overseas."
"Unfortunately, no. Now that we're in Bermuda, we're subject to British law. I have no jurisdiction until we leave port tonight and we're back out in international waters. I'm convinced that's why Kennedy waited to pull them out until now--he may realize the Feds are right on his tail."
"What can we do?" Margo asked.
"Keep an eye on the Doyles. You're right next door to them, aren't you?"
"Lamont is. I'm two doors down." She smiled.
"Close enough. Let me know if anything happens--especially if Van Dyke tries to get her to sign those papers again."
"We'll do our best," Lamont promised.
"Good." Dan sighed. "It's a real relief to find allies on board. I thought I was in this alone."
Lamont nodded. "Glad to be of service."
"It's part of the obligation we all have as agents," Margo added.
Dan nodded in agreement. "Too bad the man in black isn't here."
"Who?" Lamont challenged.
Dan rolled his eyes. "Right. Forget I said anything. I just wish we had reinforcements."
"Guess that means we have to make do with what we have," Margo noted. "And hopefully, it'll be enough."
They stopped talking as Arthur and Alexandra came out of the solarium, arm-in-arm, giggling giddily...until they ran into Delilah and Alicia Coventry.
"How fortunate I ran into you this morning," Delilah greeted. "I was hoping I might have a word with you, Miss Donatello."
"Mrs. Doyle," Alexandra retorted. "And I thought we were already having words...through our lawyers."
"Oh, it seems so silly to carry on that way. I thought we could talk this out, woman-to-woman."
"Mother, please," Alicia said, trying to steer the two women apart.
"There's nothing to talk about," Alexandra replied. "I think the lawsuit speaks for itself."
Delilah chuckled nervously. "The lawsuit...now there's something even more silly. Why you would be offended by one of my novels is beyond me..."
"Mrs. Coventry," Alexandra interrupted, "when you compare a woman named Alexandria deNatelle in the pages of some piece of trash called Heiress To Hedonism to a dog in heat, I do not see how I cannot be offended. And I believe the judge will see it my way. Now, if you'll excuse me..." She took her husband's arm once more and walked away in a huff.
"Whore," Delilah spat.
"Mother!" Alicia said, guiding her mother into the solarium.
Dan looked at Lamont. "Popular woman, isn't she?" the F.B.I. agent commented.
"She certainly has a way with people," Lamont agreed.
They looked out over the railing. "I think we all have our marching orders," Dan noted. "Until later?"
"Until later." Lamont shook his friend's hand. "Be careful."
They parted company.
Horseback riding was a traditional British activity, brought to most of its colonies by the military stationed there and spread through the culture among the locals by the visiting families. Such was the reason horseback tours of Bermuda were such a popular activity among tourists, and the guests aboard the Tropical Blossom were not immune to the lure. A group of a dozen tourists--among them the Doyles, Lamont and Margo, the Coventrys, the Van Dykes, and Dan Roth--set out on sturdy, well-trained mounts to tour the fascinating island with its pink beaches and magnificent views.
"What a beautiful place," Rosalie Van Dyke remarked.
"It is, isn't it?" Kennedy Van Dyke replied. "Wonder where we're going to stop for lunch?"
"Our guide might know," she remarked. "I'll ride ahead and ask."
"Be careful," he called as she did.
Further ahead, Alicia Coventry was watching her already tipsy mother try to stay on her mount. "Mother, hold onto the reins, for pity's sake," she urged.
"She's quite a handful," Dan Roth noted as he rode up alongside the young woman.
"She's fine," Alicia said shortly.
"Oh, of course she is. I meant no disrespect."
Alicia nodded. "I'm sorry. Mother says and does things that some people find offensive. They don't understand her...how hard she works...how much she loves life."
"Sounds like you do."
Alicia blushed slightly. "I didn't get your name."
"Alicia Coventry." They exchanged a nod. "What do you do?"
"I'm a lawyer. You?"
"I take care of Mother." She looked thoughtful. "You're a lawyer?"
They watched as Rosalie Van Dyke rode past them. Alicia again looked thoughtful. "Is it possible to libel the dead?"
He looked oddly at her. "Why do you ask?"
She shrugged. "No reason."
Ahead of them, Alexandra and Arthur Doyle were riding alongside each other. Arthur looked over at his wife, who kept looking over her shoulder. "What's wrong, darling?" he asked.
"Oh, nothing," she replied. "I just keep expecting Valerie Bonfamile to pop out of nowhere, like she has everywhere else on this trip."
He reached across and took her hand. "Relax, darling. She can't spoil anything if we don't let her."
She beamed. "You really are a magician. You make all my troubles disappear."
They started to lean across their horses to kiss.
"Excuse me!" Rosalie called as her horse came upon theirs a bit too fast.
The horses parted, and Rosalie rode through. "Sorry," she called.
"Careful!" Alexandra called. "You'll startle my horse!"
"Easy, love," Arthur urged. "Remember, we are on our honeymoon. Nothing can separate us."
On the road ahead of them, Margo tried to keep her own horse steady. "It's been years since I've ridden a horse," she said.
Lamont smiled as he expertly steered his horse along. "I haven't ridden since I left Tibet. But it's like riding a bicycle, I suppose--once you learn, you never really forget."
"You mean you're not part of the polo-playing set?" she teased.
"I despise polo," he returned. "I used to call it 'croquet on horseback'. It bores me."
"Excuse me!" Rosalie called, coming up behind them.
Lamont steered his horse out of the path and let her pass them.
"How much further is our guide?" she asked.
"Just ahead," he said, pointing to the man about a quarter mile up the road on horseback.
"Thank you," she said, riding on.
Margo rode up alongside Lamont. "She's in a hurry," she noted.
He nodded his agreement. "Wonder why? It's not like the tour's proceeding too slowly or anything like that..."
The ring of a pair of gunshots echoed around them. Everyone flinched, and the horses whinnied nervously.
"Whoa," Lamont urged his horse, tightening the reins to keep control. "Easy...easy..."
Margo struggled to hold onto her horse. "Whoa," she said.
"Pull tight and down on the reins," he said. "That will keep him steady."
"Alexandra!" Arthur shouted from behind them.
A horse shot past Lamont and Margo with Alexandra Doyle screaming in terror on its back.
Arthur tried to catch up. "Runaway mount!" he shouted ahead as he kicked his horse faster.
Lamont watched as the gap grew between Arthur and Alexandra. "He'll never catch her," he realized.
"Go," Margo urged.
Lamont kicked his horse to a gallop, leaning in tight against its body to cut wind resistance. Back in Tibet, Ying Ko had been one of the finest horsemen in the Himalayas; it added to his reputation as a ruthless warlord who could descend on a village like lightning. The evil butcher had long since been tamed--but his skills were still sharp as ever within the man who had tamed him.
He flew past Arthur, who clearly had no idea how to drive a horse to breakneck speed, nor regain control over one when it was racing out of control. Alexandra was just ahead, and she was barely managing to stay on the spooked animal. "Alexandra!" Lamont shouted. "Alexandra!"
She was screaming too loudly to hear him, clutching wildly at the reins, her feet out of the stirrups.
He frowned. No choice now; he had to make her hear him. Alexandra, grab the reins. Pull tight toward you in a downward motion.
Alexandra had no idea why she suddenly felt compelled to grab the reins, but she did so. The horse slowed somewhat, but was still running too fast.
Suddenly, Lamont was alongside her. Lean forward.
He turned himself side-saddle on his own mount, then grabbed the horn and the back of her saddle and leveraged himself across to her horse. He slipped his feet into the stirrups and reached forward to grab the reins. "Whoa," he urged the horse, pulling the reins tight and squeezing its flanks with his legs to encourage it to stop.
Slowly, the horse came to a stop.
Lamont breathed a sigh of relief, then turned his attention to his saddlemate. "Are you all right?" he asked.
Alexandra looked herself over, then looked back at him. "Where did you learn to ride like that?" she asked.
He smiled mysteriously. "I've learned a lot of things in fourteen years." He dismounted and helped Alexandra off the animal.
Her legs shook unsteadily as she stood up.
"Easy," he urged. "Are you all right?"
"I don't know," she said in a shaky voice.
Arthur caught up to them finally, looking relieved. "Allie, darling!" he said as he dismounted.
"Arthur!" she cried, throwing herself into his arms. She began to sob.
Arthur looked at Lamont, amazement at his horsemanship in his eyes. "Mr. Cranston...I don't know what to say...I can't thank you enough..."
Lamont gave a wave of dismissal. "Quite all right. I'd have her checked out by a doctor or a nurse, though."
The guide caught up to them next. "I'm terribly sorry, madam," he said. "We've never had a horse spooked that badly by a truck backfiring before..."
"That was no truck," Lamont said. "That was a pistol. A .45, to be exact."
"How can you be sure?" Arthur asked.
"I know guns. The ring of a .45 is so distinct that once you hear it, you never forget the sound."
The others began to arrive, including Dan Roth. "Who fired that gun?" he demanded.
"You heard it, too," Lamont noted.
"Hard to miss it. Sounded like it came from right behind us."
Rosalie Van Dyke dismounted her horse and came over to the shivering heiress. "I'm a nurse," she said. "Here, let's have a look at those hands. Take off your jewelry so I can see them better."
"I'm all right," Alexandra said, waving her off. Then, she spotted something at the rear of the group and screamed.
Trying to follow her gaze, Lamont thought he spotted a familiar face. He moved to get a better view.
Sitting on the back of the last horse was Valerie Bonfamile. And she was smiling.
He glared at her, remembering her words from last night. But that .22 he'd seen last night didn't make that noise that spooked the horses. Someone else was armed.
"You!" Alexandra shouted at Valerie. "You! You!"
"You're incoherent, Alexandra, dear," Valerie called back in a haughty tone. "Scared you that badly, did it?"
"Get out of here!" Arthur bellowed at his ex-girlfriend.
She shrugged. "If you wish." She turned her horse around and rode away.
Something tickled at the edge of his mind. He immediately discerned Margo's thought patterns and opened his receptive center. Margo? Did you call me?
I certainly did, her voice replied in his head. Are you all right?
I'll be sore in the morning. But Alexandra's safe. Is everyone accounted for back there?
He heard her counting. I count thirteen, if you include the guide and Valerie Bonfamile.
That's everyone. And I don't suppose you see a weapon anywhere?
No. Lamont, what happened?
Someone deliberately spooked the horses.
No. She's carrying a gun, but not one that high caliber. Someone else fired those shots.
I don't know. He frowned. I can feel the evil in the air, but I can't find it.
It probably doesn't help that so many people hate Alexandra.
No, it doesn't. He frowned again.
"I want to go back to the ship," Alexandra said, still shaken.
"That might be a good idea," Lamont suggested.
"Does everyone agree?" the guide called.
Voices of assent answered.
Arthur gently walked his wife back to his horse, then helped her into the saddle and joined her on the animal's back. "Mr. Cranston...thank you again," he said.
Lamont nodded. "Just take good care of her," he urged.
Arthur nodded his thanks again, and he and Alexandra rode away.
Lamont retrieved and mounted his own horse, then took Alexandra's by the reins and led it alongside him.
The others rode off behind the guide until only Margo remained. My hero, he heard her say.
He actually blushed slightly. One of Ying Ko's few skills that was actually worth keeping.
Don't be so hard on yourself. She reached across and patted his shoulder. I've never cared about your past...who you were, what you did. If it made you what you are today, so be it. Because that's the man I love.
He smiled. I could kiss you.
Why wait? She reached for the reins of his horse to pull her horse alongside his.
Their lips met in a warm, loving kiss.
Now dressed for formal dinner, Lamont left his cabin and started to knock on Alexandra Doyle's door when a woman in a maid's uniform burst out of the room, sobbing uncontrollably, and ran down the hall. He watched her depart, then looked in the room.
Alexandra was lighting a cigarette and drawing deeply on it, sighing roughly as she blew out the smoke.
"I see you treat the hired help the way you always did," he said sarcastically.
She whipped around. "How long have you been there?" she snapped.
"Just a moment. What did you say to the poor girl? She looked distraught."
She snorted. "Hard to find good help these days. Lucille wants to run off with her boyfriend here in Bermuda. Only trouble is, he's still married. She claims he told her he was getting a divorce, and now she wants the dowry I supposedly promised her so they can go make a love nest together. I am not funding some British government stooge's divorce. She can wait until he's ready to marry her and pay for everything."
"That's what it really boils down to, isn't it?" Lamont noted. "Money is power to you. As long as you control the money, you can control the lives of many people who absolutely despise you otherwise. Your reputation hasn't changed in fourteen years."
She sauntered over to him, arrogance even in her feminine moves. "Since when did you start caring about other people? Or your reputation, for that matter?"
He shrugged. "I've been through three lifetimes in fourteen years. Had a fortune...lost it all...got it all back, and more. It's more enjoyable when you have other people to care about." He looked around. "Where's Mr. Doyle?"
"In the bar, playing poker with my lawyer and some others." She eyed him curiously. "Where's the trophy?"
"Margo is changing for dinner."
She raised an eyebrow. "You actually used her name. I'm impressed."
"I'm not bad with names. You should know that."
"Oh, I do. You wouldn't believe all the women I've met who've claimed to have been with the great Lamont Cranston. You knew their names...their favorite wines...their favorite food...their favorite flowers...et cetera, et cetera. All to indulge your reputation as New York's most notorious playboy. And you try to paint me as a controller."
"Even scoundrels can reform." He gave a glance to his ring, a reminder of just how great a reformation one scoundrel could have. "I didn't come here to spar with you...or to reminisce."
"So, why did you come?"
"I actually wanted to make sure you were all right. Quite a harrowing experience you had today."
She nodded. "I forgot to thank you," she noted.
"You're welcome." He paused. "Do you think those gunshots were meant for you and just missed?"
"Who knows?" She threw her hands in the air. "In case you hadn't noticed, I'm not the most popular person with some of the First Class passengers."
"I noticed. So you have no idea who would have wanted you dead badly enough to shoot at you?"
"Probably that horrible Valerie. The woman's following us around like a stupid puppy."
He smiled ironically. "Nice thing to say about an old friend."
"A leech, you mean. The only thing she ever did for me was introduce me to Arthur."
"I see. Anyone else?"
She looked at him. "Are you a policeman now, Lamont?"
"Amateur criminologist, actually. And the whole thing's got me curious."
"Well," she said, stepping back from the doorway, "if I think of something, I'll let you know." She closed the door on him.
He shook his head. "Some things never change," he observed aloud.
"In what way?" Margo remarked from behind.
He turned to her. "Every argument used to end with her closing the door in my face."
"I see." She started over to him. "What did you argue about this time?"
He met her halfway. "Nothing. I thought she might know why someone would be trying to kill her."
He raised an eyebrow. "You're jealous."
She scoffed. "Don't be ridiculous."
He took her in his arms. "She was, at the time, everything I deserved. I think I've developed much higher standards since then."
"Good. I'd hate to have to take her on myself to keep her away from you."
"Women fighting over me. That's a first."
"Don't flatter yourself. I won't let any of them near enough to fight."
"I like a woman with spirit." He pulled her close, and they dissolved into a rich, luscious kiss that seemed to last forever.
"Ah, the fiery passion of young lovers," Delilah Coventry called.
They broke the kiss and turned toward her.
"Oh, go on," she encouraged as she teetered toward them, obviously having indulged in a pre-dinner cocktail or two. "It's not often that such raw, unbridled desire unfolds openly, defying the social conventions of the day..."
"Mother, please!" Alicia Coventry said, coming up behind her and leading her away. "I am quite certain Mr. Cranston and Miss Lane do not want to find themselves in the pages of one of your books..."
Lamont and Margo looked at each other and laughed. "We are absolutely scandalous," she said.
"Whatever will people say?" he returned.
She looked toward the stairs to the dining room. "Shall we go find out?"
He offered his arm. "Let's."
When the waiter took Lamont and Margo to their table in the main dining room, they were surprised to see a carafe of red wine already on the table, its stopper removed so it could breathe. Lamont picked up the card lying next to it. "A token of appreciation for all your help," he read.
"Who's it from?" Margo asked.
"It doesn't say." He looked the card over. "Waiter?"
A waiter came over to them. "Yes, sir?"
"Do you know who this is from?"
"I believe Mr. Doyle had it sent over, sir." He gestured toward a nearby table, where Arthur Doyle had poured himself a glass of red wine and raised it in a toast to them. "Is there a problem?"
Lamont shook his head. "No, no. Just curious. Thank you."
The waiter nodded and walked away.
Lamont poured a glass and sniffed it. "Mm-m," he noted. "Chianti. Wonderful bouquet." He offered a toasting gesture to Doyle in appreciation.
Margo took the glass from him and sniffed it, then took a sip. "Mm-m. Very dry."
"Good. The drier, the better, as far as I'm concerned." He pulled out Margo's chair for her and slid it under her as she sat, then joined her and poured himself a glass. "To the end of a long day," he toasted.
"And the beginning of a long night," she added in a seductive tone.
"Hear, hear." Their glasses clinked and they both sipped. He looked at the glass oddly. "You're right. That is dry. Very smoky."
"Maybe it's not chianti."
He sniffed it again. "It's got the chianti bouquet. But there's something else. Maybe it was aged longer."
"It's making me hungry for Italian food."
"No such luck. I smell island cuisine. Some of the local dishes are quite spicy, though--the Spanish influence, you know."
"Started the party without me?" Dan Roth joked as he approached.
"Not at all," Lamont greeted, standing. "Join us, won't you?"
"Certainly." He took a seat. "What are we drinking?"
"Chianti--courtesy of Arthur Doyle, apparently. Pour you a glass?"
"Oh, no, thank you. Red wine gives me a terrible headache." He snapped his fingers for a waiter, who came over promptly. "Scotch on the rocks, please." He turned to the couple. "Anything for either of you?"
"Thank you, no," Lamont answered. "Mixing harder liquor with wine gives me a headache."
"Same here," Margo replied.
From their table, they could see Alexandra Doyle finally arriving to join her husband. "She looks none the worse for wear," Dan said.
"She's very lucky to be alive," Lamont noted.
"I'll say. Where did you learn to ride like that?"
Lamont took another sip of his wine. "A Tibetan warlord taught me."
The waiter returned with Dan's drink, and he offered a small tip and sent him away. "Either he was a great teacher, or you were an outstanding student. I have never seen anything like that. That was amazing."
"I try." He polished off the glass of chianti and poured another one. "Who do you think fired those shots?"
Dan sipped his scotch. "My money's on Valerie Bonfamile. Alexandra certainly seemed shocked to see her."
"I don't think so. She's armed--I saw her last night on deck, and she had a snub-nosed .22 pistol in her pocket--but she didn't fire the shots we heard."
"She's armed?" Dan looked alarmed. "Now I know she's involved."
"But that doesn't make sense," Margo interjected. "If that was a .45 that fired those shots, there's no way she could have fired it. She's no bigger than I am."
"She could have," Lamont noted, "but I doubt it. Like you said, if that was a .45--and I'm almost certain it was, because the ring of the shot was so distinct--the recoil would probably have thrown her off the horse."
"Then who?" Dan asked.
"Well, there are certainly no shortage of suspects," Margo said. "Seems like just about everyone we run into's got some kind of grudge against her."
"I'll say. Even that little Alicia Coventry asked me if it was possible to libel the dead."
Lamont raised an eyebrow. "There's a suspicious comment."
"Normally, I'd agree with you. But she was right next to me when the shots started, so I know she didn't fire them. And her mother was right in front of me--and too drunk to know which end of the horse she was facing--so that leaves her out, too."
Margo took another sip of wine and looked thoughtful. "Did Rosalie Van Dyke ride by you as abruptly as she rode by us?"
"She certainly did. I thought that was a little strange."
"Maybe she was trying to get out of the way of a gunshot," Lamont mused.
Dan looked at him. "Kennedy Van Dyke?"
"Entirely possible. Men have done worse things to protect the integrity of a drug network."
"I'll have to have a talk with him later. Might give me a chance to investigate some of that paperwork he tried to have Alexandra sign." They stopped talking as the waitress delivered their food. "Meanwhile, I'll think I'll investigate this delicious-looking plate. It smells wonderful."
Lamont took a bite. "Mm-m. It is wonderful. Some kind of pork dish, with island spices in the sauce."
Margo indulged in a bite as well. "Hot," she noted, quickly sipping her wine.
"I love spicy food," Lamont smiled, punctuating his statement with a sip of wine. "A nicely spiced dish and a good glass of wine--there is nothing better."
Dan drew a sharp breath after a bite. "Then you ought to be in Heaven," he said, "because this is hot." He snapped his fingers, and a waiter came over. "A pitcher of water," he said. "And keep it coming."
Many of the guests continued the party in the First Class parlor, an exclusive club on the main deck which afforded a beautiful view of the ocean in the daytime and the clear night sky after dark. Just now, however, sightseeing was not high on anyone's agenda; Arthur and Alexandra Doyle had engaged Kennedy and Rosalie Van Dyke in a game of bridge, while Dan, Lamont, and Margo looked on.
Or, at least, Lamont was trying to look on. He'd long ago given up cards as a social hobby because of the unfair advantage a psychic tended to have in such contests, but he still enjoyed watching others play because it was an interesting way to see into people's personalities without having to probe their minds. But for some reason, he was having trouble staying focused. Fatigue was beginning to filter through his mind, almost like a clouding fog. He didn't think he'd done enough to tire himself out this badly. Maybe the sea air's getting to me, he thought.
Margo, also looking sleepy, looked over to him. "Did you say something, Lamont?" she asked.
Lamont frowned. He hadn't meant to project that. "No," he said aloud. "Just thinking."
"You O.K.?" Dan asked. "You look like you're somewhere else."
"Just a little tired." He shook his head, trying to clear it.
The door to the parlor opened, and Valerie Bonfamile sauntered in, clutching a bottle of wine and an empty glass, clearly drunk. "So this is where the party went to," she said in a slurred voice.
Alexandra tensed and started to get up.
Arthur reached across the table and put a firm hand on her wrist. "Ignore her, darling," he said softly, "and she'll grow tired of the game."
Alexandra nodded, then took a deep drag off the cigarette she held in a long, jeweled holder.
"Trying to blow smoke, Alexandra?" Valerie said disdainfully. "As if you could just blow me away?"
Alexandra gave her a look that would freeze lava.
"Ignore her, darling," Arthur reminded his wife.
"Why don't you just make me disappear, Arthur?" Valerie taunted. "You used to, you know. Every night, as part of the act, you'd make the lady disappear. Why don't you do it now?"
"Your bid, Doyle," Kennedy prompted.
Arthur looked at his cards. "Two clubs."
Alicia Coventry came into the parlor, looking around chairs and under tables.
"Lose something, Alicia?" Dan called.
"My mother misplaced her stole," she said, glancing around the overstuffed couch. "Have you seen it? It's emerald green, and beaded..."
"Green, the color of envy," Valerie pronounced dramatically. "The color of Alexandra's eyes, too."
Rosalie sighed. The woman really was becoming annoying. "Three diamonds."
Alexandra looked at her cards. "Four clubs."
Kennedy looked at his hand. "Too rich for me. Pass."
"Most of the people in this room are too rich for me," Valerie said as she continued to make a spectacle of herself. "Poor little Arthur got seduced by dollar signs."
Arthur frowned. "Pass."
"Pass," Rosalie said. "Looks like you're the dummy, Doyle."
"Oh, he's no dummy," Valerie laughed. "He married Madame Moneybags over there. And left his poor little assistant to fend for herself."
"That's it," Alexandra declared. "I've had it. Arthur, you can play my hand. I'm going to bed." She got up and left the room.
"Mm-m," Margo said in a slurred voice as she stretched. "Bed. That does sound like a good idea."
Lamont once again shook his head to clear it. Maybe turning in early would be a good thing. "Come on," he said, helping her to her feet, "I'll walk you to your room."
"And not to yours?" she giggled.
Even he was stunned by her forthright response. "Scandalous, Miss Lane. Absolutely scandalous."
"You can say that again," Valerie said, toasting them with yet another glass of wine. "Scandalous how a man can just dump his longtime love for a rich witch."
Lamont sighed. Maybe going to bed would do everyone some good. He took Margo by the arm and led her out of the room. "Good night, everyone," he said as they left.
"See you in the morning," Dan called.
Lamont had no idea how they made it down the stairs together. Margo was as tipsy as he'd ever seen her. And he was so tired even his normally keen reflexes were betraying him as he found it hard to keep his balance and hers on the stairs. Wine never had this effect on him, yet he felt absolutely thick-headed, unable to concentrate, barely able to see straight.
Somehow, they made it to her door, still upright. "Last stop," he commented, opening her door for her.
"You're not coming in?" She looked hurt.
"I don't think so. Somehow, I don't think either of us is in the mood."
"Speak for yourself." She reached up and clumsily undid his tie, then fell into his chest and giggled.
She nearly knocked him over as she did. He took her by the shoulders and gently stood her upright again. "Miss Lane, you are drunk."
"So are you, Mr. Cranston," she accused in a slurred voice.
"I am indeed. Which is why I think we should probably spend the night in our own rooms."
"Your loss." She fell against the doorframe of her cabin, then giggled again. "Good night, Lamont."
"Good night, Margo."
She closed the door, and he headed for his own cabin.
Once inside, he shucked his jacket and pulled off the tie, then unbuttoned the top buttons on his dress shirt. Or, at least, he tried to; his fingers could barely work the pearl buttons, and he nearly broke one of them off trying to get it undone. Margo was right; he was drunk. No, not drunk, he corrected himself; he was absolutely plastered. And on three glasses of wine, yet. He never got this drunk, not even after two martinis on an empty stomach.
He staggered into the bedroom and collapsed onto the bed, feeling rubber-legged and dizzy. It wasn't only intoxication he was feeling; his skin itched horribly, as if he were breaking out in hives, and his nerves felt jangled and jittery. His thoughts were whirling, but it was as if someone were clouding his mind; he couldn't focus his psychic energies enough to detect anything clearly. The closest thing he could compare it to was the time Ying Ko had taken way too much opium and tried to wash it down with a plundered stash of vodka from another warlord's palace...
That's when it hit him like a brick wall. My God, I've been drugged.
The room spun violently around him as he blacked out.
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.
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