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by Cary Lucas
Description: What is this Mystery about? Murder and malevolent mischief in Mexico so baffling it has even the F.B.I running around in circles . A Body clubbed, slashed, and tossed to the fishes for no apparent reason. A peculiar farewell note which only adds to the mystery of the fear in the eyes of its writer. A puzzling and elaborate survey of an unexplored area. Eight trucks where no trucks should be. Two mighty expensive roads from nowhere to nowhere. A drainage project as fantastic as it is phony. A constantly used camera which has been innocent of any film for years. A deserted and fast-sinking ship upon which four innocent fugitives are trapped. A wild ride on a tractor. A carefully calculated seduction before a horrified audience. Piracy on a gigantic scale. A breathless series of adventures in Hell's back yard. Wouldn't you like to know? why the man who has every right to be in his office is scared speechless when found there? Why death must be the penalty for anyone penetrating the secret of the Melendez papers? What P.U.N has to do with murder? Why Bert Carter's hobby seems to be "taking pictures" with an unloaded camera? What are the Seven Points of the puzzle? Why the crew laughed at every mention of the ship's sailing? What is the true meaning of the notation Salinas Vengeance? You will learn the answers as you thrill to the adventure, romance, excitement, and suspense which befall Ken Marsh as he tracks murder and dark villainy through a region of Mexico known as Hell's Back Yard.
eBook Publisher: Gate Way Publishers,
eBookwise Release Date: January 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [326 KB]
Reading time: 199-279 min.
The knob turned in his hand, so Marsh opened the door and went in. Then he stopped cold. He stood there telling himself that when you came to an office door and found it unlocked you went in, there was nothing out of line in that. There was nothing in that to startle a man speechless.
But the man inside stared at him as if at a gun. He squatted on his heels, hunkered down before the open doors of a steel cabinet in a sea of papers, his head wrenched round to stare, his eyes wide and wild, his bald head glistening. He looked cornered.
That was silly, Marsh told himself, arguing it out with the part of his mind that went on ticking by itself. If the man had no business there he'd grab the briefcase and run, or do something besides squat there and stare. But he didn't move at all. Only the papers in his outstretched hand moved, vibrating a little. Somebody had to say something. "The door was open. I just walked in," Marsh said foolishly.
Still the man didn't move, but he spoke. "Sure," he said.
"I was looking for Mr. Weems."
The man sighed. He must have been holding his breath. After a moment he said, "I'm Weems."
"Well, that's good. Shows I'm in the right place." He smiled tentatively. "I'm Marsh."
"Marsh." His voice was absolutely flat. He got slowly up on his thick legs. There was fat on him, but not much; he had the high big belly of a really strong man, a stevedore's belly; and his face was thick and strong too, but smart.
"Kenneth Marsh, if you want the rest of it." Marsh pushed through the little gate and held out his hand, trying to pump some life into his grin.
There was sweat on Weems's palm. There was nothing in his grip to back up his mechanical "Glad to know you," and he let go as soon as he could. "My office--that door over there," he mumbled. "Go on in. Be through here in a minute."
Out here there were two stenographer's desks, the typewriters shrouded; windows in one wall, a door in each of the others. Weems's office was all right; plain, businesslike, just a desk and a table and some chairs and a bookcase full of catalogues. Could have been anybody's office at home. And why not? But Marsh kept expecting things to be different. He went to a window and looked down at Avenida Juarez. Most of the signs were in Spanish, naturally, but there were plenty in English. Aside from that it could have been Kearny Street down there. From here you couldn't see that some of the women were barefoot.
"You're early," Weems said fretfully. Marsh turned. For a big man, Weems could move quietly; he was in the room, letting himself down into the swivel chair behind the desk. He looked tired and worried. That must be it. Not scared.
"Well, the plane was on time and I came straight here."
"I got you a room at the Maria Cristina. Didn't they tell you? I told McCabe you could go straight there."
"I thought I'd check in with you first."
"You should have gone there--Well, sit down, Marsh."
And about time. "I have a letter for you, Mr. Weems." He held it out. "Seems unnecessary, but Mr. McCabe thought you'd like it. So you'd know I wasn't Secret Agent X-9"--he laughed--"worming my way into your--"
"That's a damn fool thing to say!" Weems snapped. He was jumpy. He took the letter, but he laid it down without even opening the envelope. He just kept staring at Marsh, as he had been doing, all the time he pulled in his big belly to get the center drawer of the desk open and reach in and fumble and bring out a picture. Then for a while he looked at the picture, and at Marsh, and back at the picture, and back at Marsh. "Yes," he said.
Marsh felt himself getting sore. "Like to see my passport?" Then that seemed uncalled for, and he started to soften it down with a grin, but--
But, "Yes," Weems said.
"Well--well, sure," Marsh laughed, but there didn't seem to be anything funny; so he got out the passport.
And there was nothing funny about the way Weems went over it. Not just the picture; he read, half aloud: "Height, six-one... Hair, brown... Eyes, blue..." And each time that anxious stare and pause while he thought about it, as if he were trying to find something wrong with it. "Scar on left thigh, irregular, seven
"Want to see my operation?" Kidding. The light touch.
He did. He nodded, with no smile. Marsh felt like a fool, hauling up his pants. Weems looked at it. Marsh let the pants leg drop and said, "That's all at these prices." And wondered what made him think he was so goddamn funny.
"How'd you get it?"
"Oh--being in the wrong place at the right time."
"Pilot." Not a question; he knew. But of course he would. The home office would have sent him all that. Weems was flipping over the blank visa pages. "Form fourteen?" he asked without looking up.
"Form fourteen. Permit to work in Mexico."
"Oh, that thing." Marsh opened his billfold to the right window and passed it over. Weems glanced at it. Then without apology he looked at the other windows--the California driver's license, the social security card, the miniature honorable discharge.
"I could maybe get a letter from my pastor," Marsh said.
Weems sighed heavily, passed back the billfold and the passport. He slid the picture and the unread letter into the drawer and let his belly shove it closed.
"You haven't taken my fingerprints." This son of a bitch. This fat slob, this goddamn--
Weems was staring at him with heavy lids, and yet he wasn't. Suddenly Marsh realized he could have said those things out loud and Weems wouldn't have heard a word. He was looking at something else, something a long way in back of Marsh's head, so clearly that Marsh wanted to turn and see it for himself even though he knew there was nothing there but a closed door.
And then Weems came back. He gave another sigh and his face worked; you could see the rubbery features arranging themselves into a smile. A queer sort of smile, at best--like a tired old bookkeeper who's been caught in a mistake and is taking it on his quivering old chin with the best grace he can, trying to make it unimportant--but the smile was only on his face, not in his eyes. "Think I was a little hard on you?" he asked.
Marsh moved his shoulders and didn't answer.
"Foreign country, you know. Not like the States. Have to be careful. You've got a lot to learn."
"Does that call for a third degree?"
"Oh, now, you mustn't think that. You mustn't--"
"Between two Americans? Between two Americans working for the same outfit, who are going to be working together?"
Weems made a little defensive gesture with his thick hands. "Natural caution, my boy. Don't take it to heart. No harm done," he said anxiously.
"Well--" Well, he'd had to do it with West Pointers. The boss is right because he's the boss. He swallowed it and produced a grin. "Sorry. Guess I sort of burst in on you, caught you off balance."
"That's about it, yes it is. Fact is, I wasn't expecting anybody, not just you but anybody this early. Office hours are different here you know, you'll find it hard to get used to; as you see the girls aren't here yet, won't be for an hour or so, then we work till one or one-thirty or so, then a long lunch, siesta you know, then start in again around three and--"
And that was where his breath gave out and he just stopped and his eyes went blank.
Marsh found himself breathing hard too. He waited a little while and then he had to say something. "Well, when do I start?"
He said it twice before Weems came back from wherever he had been. "Oh, no hurry, no hurry at all; look around a little, get the feel of the place. Run out to Xochimilco and Teotihuacan and Cuernavaca and so on; be a tourist, lots of time, be a regular tourist--" He ran down again, smiling at Marsh with his face and staring like a lost soul.
Marsh moved his shoulders inside his Shetland jacket. "Later, maybe. I've come to stay, you know. Maybe not as long as you have, but--"
"Thirty-two years I've been here," Weems began instantly, "thirty-two long years and I'm about ready to retire; fact is, my parents are still alive and I ought to go home and take care of them; wonderful old people, that's their picture there." And his whole body turned so that he was aiming his face at the picture on his desk, the faded picture of two very ordinary people Marsh had vaguely noticed--but Weems wasn't really looking at it. He wasn't really looking at anything in that room.
Marsh found himself on his feet; he felt as if he were being jostled, crowded. He got over to the window casually enough, for no reason except that he had stood up and had to do something about it, and turned and came back and sat down again. "Absolutely," he said, just as if it meant something. "But I hope you'll be here a long while yet."
"Oh, don't worry about that for a minute; wouldn't think of unloading the whole job on you, get that right out of your--"
"The way I--"
"In fact, there's nothing pressing about my plans at all, just something I've--"
"The home office," Marsh said--they were shouting at each other, talking each other down like two women in a bus--"the home office didn't mention that you were ready to retire; in fact, I understood there'd be work enough--"
"Exactly, exactly," Weems said, and his eyes stared and his head began to nod and kept on nodding. "You in the field, getting out to the mines and the mills, takes a young fellow to bat around like that and keep the customers happy, me here in the office to make sure the orders and shipments get through, yes indeed, should work--"
"But of course I'll want to put in a week or so here, to get the hang of things and--"
"Naturally, naturally"--the man was still nodding like one of those manikins with its head on a pivot--"a week or so should do very nicely and then you'll be ready to go out where the real job is, absolutely; I think we'll get along very well together, I can see we have the same slant on things--" And the sweat was running down his forehead.
"Look," Marsh said desperately. "Look, Mr. Weems."
"You and I will certainly make a good team. Marsh; we see eye to eye and that's a good--"
"I think perhaps I will look around a little today."
"A very good suggestion, very good, exactly what--"
"Your suggestion, Mr. Weems. I don't know--I feel a bit rocky, I guess. Didn't sleep much on the plane."
"The altitude, Marsh, that's what's bothering you. Seventy-eight hundred feet, mile and a half, very hard to get used to. Very wise plan to take things easy for a few days, get acclimated, anybody'll tell you the same thing; just relax, don't walk fast, don't climb stairs, don't--"
"I'll see you later."
"Don't hurry, don't drink too much, don't exert--"
"I'll get my room settled, unpack my clothes. You'll be here all day?"
Weems gasped. "Oh, yes, of course; what put such an idea in your head; of course I will!"
"Well, then--" And Marsh got out of the room as if something were after him.
But there was really nothing there. There was a fat man with his sweat running and his eyes staring and his head nodding, but if you looked into his eyes you knew he wasn't really there.
* * * *