Capt. M. L. Heimrich of the New York State Police may not have the flash of hard-boiled city detectives, but there’s no lead the intrepid investigator won’t follow until his every hunch is satisfied . . .
There’s no better place than Key West for relaxing under a palm tree with a daiquiri in hand. It should be the perfect location for Captain Heimrich to recover after being shot in the shoulder during a confrontation with a killer. But Heimrich’s recuperation soon turns into a working vacation when a fellow guest at the Coral Isles is murdered.
A former Communist famous for exposing his compatriots, Bronson Wells wasn’t much liked—giving the local authorities a long list of suspects to sort through. And even though Captain Heimrich is outside his jurisdiction, the experienced detective can’t resist doing some investigating of his own.
With the assistance of his associate, Dr. Barclay MacDonald, and Miss Mary Wister, a young artist from New York, Heimrich will forgo the sand and sun of the Keys and digs into possible motives for wanting the arrogant Wells silenced forever.
Death by Association is the 5th book in the Captain Heimrich Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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There was nottime to see, to see for remembering, all the pictures made by sea and land, by the many bridges and by the fishers on the bridges; the pictures clear in sunlight which was bright yet somehow soft; the pictures glimpsed and then hurled past, hurled backward by the ponderous, headlong progression of the bus. She could look ahead and see a bridge, with men and women — variously, sometimes grotesquely, now and then brightly, costumed — fishing from it and then they were on the bridge, seemed to be brushing the fishers, threatening to hurl them into the blue water or mangle them against the concrete guard wall over which they leaned. But when she looked back the fishers were still there, unperturbed, standing on, but now and then perilously backing from, a narrow concrete ledge between rail and roadway. She looked back once and a woman in a red shirt and tight blue trousers was leaning forward toward the rail, partly over it, and was pulling up a fish which wriggled silver in the sun.
If only she could remember that; if only there were time to remember any of it. But when the bus slowed, when it stopped, it was always on a key where the road ran only straight, like a road anywhere, with frame buildings on either side and gasoline pumps and signs offering fried shrimp, and jewfish and lime pie. There were pictures everywhere, there were pictures even where the bus stopped — at Tavernier, on Key Largo; at Marathon, on Key Vacas; at the lower toll gate, on Big Pine Key — but the best pictures went backward at sixty miles an hour, on straightaways at seventy. The bus had no time for pictures. The bus was implacable. It hurled itself south, not taking breath, and hurled itself toward the sea — toward the southernmost end of everything. It had started where the road started, she thought — in Maine the road started, didn't it? — and forced its way the length of the seaboard. "From Northern pines to Southern palms." As it neared the end of its unrelenting journey it went faster, through a swirl of pictures, of light and color, toward the final blueness of the sea. It would not stop when the road ended; it could not stop. It would continue to the end of the springboard and off it, into blue water. It would plunge into the water and throw up great waves on either side, and at the top the waves would break into spray and sparkle in the sun. Then the bus would go on, with blueness all around, and fish would swim outside the windows and look in at the people and —
She was not asleep, had not been asleep. Yet, nevertheless, she awoke and took herself in hand. The bus had not started in Maine. It had started in Miami. It was not going to the southernmost end of the world, but only down a chain of keys to the endmost key, the southernmost and westernmost key. To, specifically, Key West, where there was an absolute guarantee against frost; where there had never been a frost. The bus would not fall off the end of the North American continent and continue under water toward Cuba. It would turn docile in a town, creep through traffic, bungle its way around corners, finally draw up to a curb. She could see the pictures ahead; see the bus, now merely ponderous, now meek, almost embarrassed, turning a corner too sharp for it in a street too small. It would be careful not to knock over palm trees. She had a picture of the bus sidling grotesquely around a palm tree, trying to make itself smaller. It was a sharp picture, and a satisfying one, although, having never been in Key West and being only recently familiar with palm trees anywhere, Mary Wister was forced to invent detail. This she did by detaching, from the other pictures in her mind, such fragments as seemed suitable....
Already the bus appeared to be losing confidence. It went more slowly; it no longer seemed to brush aside other vehicles as it had done for a hundred and fifty miles, from the outskirts of Miami (and the last too highly colored, too modern, too self-conscious house) to this area of thickening traffic. Mary Wister looked at her watch. It was time for the traffic to thicken; time for Key West. Mary Wister looked out her window, which was on the left as one faced forward in the bus, and there was a high wire fence, there was a gate with Marines on guard, heyond there were the bloated forms of tethered blimps. That would be the naval station, or, at any rate, part of it. That would be Boca Chica. A jet plane shot violently up from somewhere, screaming, a comet with an angry lashing tail. The bus, suddenly old, decrepit, an uncertain hulk, went across another bridge and into town. It went, now like a bull on lead from a nose ring, down a broad street, between palm trees — down, she saw from the street signs, Roosevelt Boulevard. But soon it was on Truman Avenue, which was busier but rather less impressive. Then the bus turned into a narrow street, bungled its way — as she had foreseen — around several corners and stopped at a curb.
"Well, here we are, folks," the driver said, and opened the door of the bus. "Key West, folks," he added, to relieve any stubborn doubt.
When it was her turn, Mary Wister got out of the bus. When it was her turn, she retrieved her luggage. She said, "Yes, please" to a man who said, "Taxi, miss?" She said, "Yes," again when he said, "The Coral Isle, miss?" and got into the cab. When the driver had stowed her two bags and portfolio case and got behind the wheel, when he had started the car, she said, "How did you know?"
"Just look like it, I guess, miss," he said, and made a right turn and then another and then a third. "One way streets," he told her. "Get so's we can tell, generally. Some looks like The Coral Isle and some looks like The Keys."
There was nothing in particular to say to that except "oh," which Mary Wister said, dutifully.
"Since the railroad blew down, you can't tell by buses," he said, cryptically. "Anybody can come by bus."
She said "oh" again, and looked at pictures of old houses behind walls, and at square frame buildings housing obviously fifth rate groceries, at cottages which might have been anywhere and at pink stucco oddities which should have been in Miami's outskirts or in Los Angeles. The cab turned left and went along for two blocks of nondescript structures and then passed, unexpectedly, an ancient square mansion, keeping itself to itself behind a high brick wall. The cab stopped at lights and then crossed Truman Avenue. For the next several blocks most of the houses were recent; many were bright, most seemed to hug the coral earth, clutching its substance against another such hurricane as had blown down the railroad.
The cab turned, after a few blocks, into a wide gateway and along a circling drive toward a porte-cochere. The cab was forced to stop part way along the drive to wait while a chauffeur-driven car ahead was unloaded of two men and luggage. One of the men was tall and thin and, although obviously not old, moved with something like the carefulness of age. The other was a square man, with a square face, older than the other, having the appearance of great physical solidity, but — which was unexpected — also moving with somewhat exaggerated care. He, indeed, got out of the car awkwardly, as if not all of him were functioning.
Alert young men in red jackets swooped on bags. The two men, the tall and thin one first, went into The Coral Isles and resilient youth, jacketed in red, followed after with bags. The big car rolled away, then, and the cab rolled in. A tall man in uniform opened the door, beamed at Mary Wister, said "good afternoon, miss" and gave her unrequired assistance in getting out. He got her bags and case from the cab and put them on steps to a porch and another young man in a red jacket came out at a trot to welcome them. Mary paid and tipped and smiled and followed.
There was a great deal of lobby, extending to right and left of the entrance. Looking straight ahead, before she turned to follow the red coat right toward the desk, she saw the picture of palm trees through french windows, and beyond the palms the sea. She waited briefly behind the solid man, who waited behind the tall, thin man. "Boy," the clerk said, and resilient youth — they all looked like football players of the trimmer sort, Mary Wister thought — took key and bags and tall, thin man away. The queue of three was a queue of two; the clerk smiled at her over the solid man, and smiled, simultaneously, at the solid man.
"Heimrich," the solid man said. "M. L. I have a reservation, naturally."
The clerk beamed; he asked to be allowed a moment, he turned back to the desk in triumph and with key. He said again, "Boy!" and the solid man followed boy and bags down the long lobby.
"Now!" the clerk said to Mary Wister. "Now!" It was a moment for which he had been waiting, perhaps all his life.
"Mary Wister," she said. "The Florida Associates."
"Of course," the clerk said, a clerk who should have known. "Of course!" He turned away, turned hack almost instantly with key in hand. "Boy," he commanded. "Take Miss Wister to two-oh-two. On the ocean side, Miss Wister. A lovely vista."
"Yes," Mary said. "Thank you."
She turned from the desk after the youth in red jacket. She turned almost into a man in tennis shorts, a sweater draped over his shoulders, wrapping its arms around his neck. He carried a racket; he smiled and was sorry he had almost been bumped into. And only then did Mary Wister realize that, in early February, she had come on summer. It was, she thought, as if until that moment — that moment of the picture of a man in tennis clothes, red from exercise, sweating a little from exercise — she was still enveloped in the North's cold; had brought the cold with her, in her tweed suit, her light but still too heavy top-coat, in her skin. Until that moment she simply had not noticed warmth. She had not noticed in Miami, between train and bus station or — which of course was the way it truly was — had taken for granted. But now she felt the warmth of summer. She thought of New York, and shivered. She followed the boy down the lobby, past chairs and sofas which were, with no exceptions, empty. She followed the boy into an elevator, and out of it on the second floor, and down a long corridor — it was, evidently, a hotel of distances — and into a small, square room, with an outsized window filling most of one wall.
The boy was busy. He opened the window. He opened the door to a bathroom which was almost as large as the small room. He opened another door and said, "Quite a closet, miss," and waited comment.
"For heaven's sake!" Mary Wister said, and spoke sincerely. The closet was a cavern; it appeared to be half again as large as the room it adjoined. Involuntarily, she looked at her two, not large, bags. The youth beamed at her.
"Hits everybody," he said. "Some closet, isn't it? Used to be, everybody who came here fished. Had a lot of stuff, you know. They gave 'em closets, they gave 'em closets."
"Yes," Mary Wister said. "They did, didn't they?" She looked around the bedroom, which now seemed very small.
"I'll tell you," the youth said, "you won't spend any time in it, except to sleep. Nobody does. Anything else, miss?"
There was nothing else, except a tip. Then there was quiet in a small room with a large window, with a late sun pouring in the window. She looked through the window at palm trees, at a lawn with chairs and chaises, at a parapet beyond and, beyond the parapet, sand and the sea. And far out on the water, seemingly stationary but from its smoke trail certainly at work, there was a little ship. Then, as she watched, there was a roaring in the air and a jet plane knifed in from the sea, very low, at, but then by an unnervingly narrow margin, over The Coral Isles. After the plane passed, it was very quiet; she thought she could hear the sea. She stood for several minutes by the window, breathing warm air, looking at pictures in blue and green, before she unpacked and went into the enormous bathroom for a shower, and came out into the room, the cold washed from her skin and the softness of summer caressing it. Then she dressed, not this time in tweeds, and after a time went out to see. For the moment, the disappointment, the emptiness, was hardly there at all.
She found a stairway before she found the elevator, which appeared to have hidden itself willfully, and went down a single flight to the lobby. It was not so empty now; around a piano men in white dinner jackets with instrument cases were gathering; in one corner, formed by a sofa and a deep chair, surrounding a table, two couples were waiting, thirst evident in their faces, while a young man in a white jacket listened to their orders. Mary walked past them, along the lobby toward the desk, the newsstand, the glass cases of violent shirts for, she assumed, men maddened by February warmth. But before she reached the desk and the newsstand, she saw french doors open at her left and went through them onto a wide porch.
Here there were people, in the sun of late afternoon. Here a man in a city suit sat on a chaise and smoked a cigar and read a Wall Street Journal; here two plump women in their fifties knitted with quick needles and spoke with quicker tongues, and spoke in the accents of Georgia. Or was it South Carolina? Pictures were always so much clearer than sounds, so much more revealing: the needles darting, one through dark red wool, the other through white; the yellow circles — they looked like quoits — on the dress of one of the women; the shape of the women; the way one of them, her turn to speak awaited, showed the tip of a red tongue between white teeth, as if it were held there captive, forced to bide its time. One of the women, the one whose tongue was not in the white trap of teeth, smiled up at Mary Wister, and the smile was friendly, a welcome to warmth, to summer in February.
Mary went across the porch, after smiling appreciation of her welcome, and down a cement walk toward the parapet and the sea. Reaching the parapet, which was broken for a stairway to the beach itself, she paused, the sun warm through her thin dress, a summer coat light on her arm, and looked out over the water. Gulls rose and fell over it; the little ship had taken itself off. But a powerboat, going somewhere in a sputtering hurry, shot by, bouncing in the quiet water. Light bounced from the water, from the powerboat's spray. She turned back and looked toward the hotel. After all, whatever else she got, she must get some part of the hotel itself — something bright and welcoming, and distinctive of this hotel only, which would, some day, some place, make a woman say to a man, or a man to a woman, "That's where we want to go. That looks wonderful."
Well, Mary Wister thought, that won't be hard. It does look wonderful.
The sun was on the façade she faced. A hundred windows flashed in it. The sun reached into the covered porch, stretched diagonal, shortening panels on the porch floor. The hotel was grayish white in the sun, red roofed. Bougainvillaea climbed between the windows. It was a long hotel, stretching itself parallel to the sea. There was a central section along which the porch ran; at either end there was a wing and each wing, angling widely from the central section, reached toward the water, so that the lawn and the palm trees were held lightly in an open cup. Mary Wister looked at the hotel and thought in pictures, as she had thought for so long as she could remember. She looked to her left and saw the flat green surface of tennis courts. There were high hedges at either end of the courts and, beyond the hedge at the more distant end, there was — only partly to be seen from where she stood — what was evidently a dance floor, since several couples were dancing on it, to rhumba rhythms.
Along the side of the tennis court nearest her, there was a railed area, roofed and shaded by green and white canvas; there were tables in the area and several men and women, dressed for tennis, rackets piled on tables, were watching four men play doubles with energy but with only moderate skill, with red faces and — their voices carried — frequent ejaculations, most of them self-addressed and delivered in tones of hopeless fury. They were all, evidently, having a wonderful time. The rest of the sentence forced its way into a mind which sought to bar it. But she didn't, Mary Wister told herself; she didn't at all. She didn't wish anybody there. There wasn't anybody. She was harsh with her mind.
Excerpted from "Death by Association"
Copyright © 1952 Richard and Frances Lockridge.
Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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