When Claire Cole meets a sailor at the hospital, he’s just another enlisted man in need of her care . . . until he mistakes a nurse’s compassion for true love, and a few dates as the beginning of a grand romance. But then Claire visits the USS Sykes to tell him that it’s over, and something in him snaps. He curses. He begs. And when that doesn’t work, he gets angry, wrapping his hands around her throat and squeezing until he sees the life leave her eyes.
The nurse’s death sends a shockwave through the ship, and the brass immediately start an official investigation. When a yeoman sailor commits suicide, the men in charge are content to write him off as the killer, but communications officer Chuck Masters doesn’t buy it. There’s a murderer on the Sykes, and Chuck must find him before he claims his next victim.
Drawing heavily from firsthand experience—legendary author Ed McBain served on a naval destroyer during World War II—Murder in the Navy, also published as Death of a Nurse, showcases a master of crime fiction at his best.
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Murder in the Navy
By Ed McBain
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1955 Ed McBain
All rights reserved.
He sat on the port side of the ship, just outside the radar shack and the ladder leading up to the bridge. He sat on an ammunition box, and he rested one hand on the 20-millimeter antiaircraft gun, which was uncovered now because the ship had visitors.
He was wearing undress blues, as the Old Man had ordered. He didn't like undress blues, because the sleeves were short and had no cuffs, and he really felt that dress blues would have been more fitting for Navy Day. He kept an eye peeled for officers because he knew he'd be chewed out if anyone saw him just sitting here when the ship was swarming with visitors. But he didn't want to miss her when she came aboard, and his perch just below the bridge gave him a full view of the approach to the dock.
There were two other ships tied up at the dock, and he looked over at them now. One was a battleship, and it squatted on the waterline like a big gray hotel. The other was a submarine, and it seemed to attract most of the visitors, but he supposed that was natural. He had to admit his own ship, a destroyer, looked smart enough. There was a man on either side of the gangway, each wearing a guard belt, each holding a rifle at Parade Rest. An Army major walked up the dock, heading for the two men with their hats neatly squared, the dull blue barrels of the rifles angled forward. When the major reached the gangway, both men sprang to attention, the rifles snapping back against their thighs, their left hands with palms flat crossing to touch the muzzles of the guns in salute.
The major returned the salute and started up the gangway.
Maybe she won't come, he thought.
The thought made him uncomfortable, and he slid off the ammo box and began pacing the deck. The ship bobbed gently with the motion of the water. He saw Mr. Haverford starting down the port side of the ship, resplendent in his carefully tailored blues, wearing a new hat with the braid glistening at its peak. He ducked quickly into the passageway, stayed there for several moments, and then went out to stand near the gun again. Mr. Haverford was gone.
He looked off down the dock. When he saw the group of women in blue, his heart quickened. He leaned over the rail at the side, trying to get a better look, trying to determine whether it was really she or not.
" ... Combat Information Center just behind the door here on your right," a voice said behind him. "Love to take you in there, but security regulations prohibit that, I'm afraid."
He turned rapidly and saw the group of visitors led by Mr. Carlucci. One of the bright-eyed matrons asked, "Is that where they keep the radar?"
"Yes, ma'am," Mr. Carlucci said.
"Couldn't we just ..."
"I'm sorry, ma'am," Mr. Carlucci said politely. "Security. The ladder up ahead leads to the bridge, and if you'll follow me I'll show you the real brains of the ship."
The matron squealed, and then the guided party went past him and clanked up the ladder to the bridge. He went back to the rail and looked over at the rapidly advancing women in blue. She was one of them, he was sure of that. He studied them until he could pick her out, the one on the end, the one with the loose-hipped walk. He watched the way the sun silhouetted her; even a uniform couldn't hide her figure. He found it difficult to breathe, and he was surprised to find a grin covering his face. She was looking up at the ship now, and he was tempted to wave until he remembered.
He drew back his arm and hurried into the passageway. He ran through to the hatch leading to the boat deck, ran out past the forward stack, past the torpedo tubes amidships, and past the ladder leading to the quarterdeck. He didn't want to climb down right near the OD. He ran past the hanging motor launch, past the aft stack, and then down the ladder aft of the quarter-deck. He reached the main deck as she stepped onto the gangway.
The rifles were snapped back again, and the hands crossed in salute. He saw her raise her own hand in salute, and he thought how ridiculous women in war were, but he shoved the thought aside. She was not just a "woman in war." She was Claire, and she was a nurse.
She stepped onto the quarter-deck now, threw a snappy salute at the ensign flying from the fantail, and then saluted the OD. The OD returned the salute, and she smiled and then waited for the other nurses to catch up with her. He wondered how he could get rid of the others, but she knew he was waiting for her, and she'd help him.
She looked around casually, and he knew she was looking for him, and the thought pleased him. He waited until the other nurses were aboard, six of them, and then watched as the OD assigned them a guide. Claire fell in behind the rest, and as they passed through the midships passageway, she glanced over her shoulder, looking directly at him, but showing no sign of recognition.
A smart girl, he thought. A very smart girl.
He climbed up to the boat deck again, crossed to the starboard side, and saw that they had not come out of the passageway. He figured their first stop would be sick bay, the logical place to show off to visiting nurses. He ran back to the port side, and then into the passageway that led past the radar shack, and then down the ladder leading to the main deck. He kept going down, stopping on the ladder that went below decks to the mess hall. He waited there until he saw them step into the other end of the passageway. The guide showed them sick bay, and they nodded appreciatively and murmured among themselves. Claire was behind the other nurses, and he couldn't see her too well. He heard the guide say something, and then they started down the passageway, coming toward him. He went a step farther down the ladder so that just the top of his white hat was showing, and then down another step so that he was unseen.
The party went past him and started up the ladder to the bridge. He looked up from where he stood on the ladder and saw a flurry of strong legs and white petticoats. The nurses were chattering excitedly among themselves. They did not hear him when he urgently whispered, "Claire!"
She turned abruptly, saw him standing on the ladder below her, and stopped as the other nurses continued up to the bridge. He climbed the steps rapidly, waited until the rest of the party was gone, and then said, smiling, "Hello, Claire."
"Hello," she said. He thought her voice sounded distant, but he attributed that to their current surroundings. Her hat was perched jauntily on her black curls. Her hair framed her face, and there was a high flush on her cheeks. He wanted to take her in his arms and hold her tight, but he was painfully aware of the officer's emblem on her hat and the gleaming silver bar on her shoulder.
"This way," he said.
He led her up the ladder and stopped in the passageway outside C.I.C.
"This is the radar shack," he said. "No visitors are allowed here."
"Do you think —"
"It's all right, Claire," he said. He fished into the pocket on his jumper and came up with a key. He inserted that in the door lock, looked down the passageway, and then rapidly twisted it and swung the door open in one smooth motion. He took her arm, pulled her inside, and then closed the door and locked it.
The room was dark. The radar gear was not operating, and the only light came from behind one of the plotting boards in the corner.
He turned to her and took her shoulders, drawing her close to him in the darkness.
"I didn't think you'd come," he said.
She pulled away from him gently, but he felt the stiffening of her shoulders, and he wished the room weren't quite so dim, wished that he could see her face more clearly.
"I wasn't going to," she said.
Her voice sounded strange and distant. He saw her reach into her purse, and then a match flared, and he saw the fine planes of her face for just an instant as she lighted her cigarette. The match went out, and there was only the dimness again.
"Why ... why not?" he asked. He felt his own hands go to his jumper pocket again. He pulled one cigarette free from the package in the pocket, lighted it, and then blew out a wreath of smoke nervously. "Why not, Claire?"
"I've been thinking."
"What about? What about, Claire?"
She was silent for a moment. She drew in on her cigarette, and the dull red glow lighted her mouth and the tip of her nose.
"What about us?" he said softly.
"It's no good."
"Why not?" he asked defensively.
"Don't shout. For God's sake, do you want the ship down around our ears?"
"I'm sorry," he said sulkily.
"Look, let's be sensible about all this. You were sent to the hospital on the base, and you met a nurse there. All right, it was all fine and dandy. I don't know why I agreed to see you after you left the hospital, but that was all right, too. We'll forget all that. We'll say it was all right."
"Let me do the talking, please. Don't make it harder for me than it is."
"But you're talking as if this is a new thing. For God's sake, Claire, we've been seeing each other for a month now. That week end in Wilmington — can you —"
"Let's forget that week end in Wilmington. That was something that never should have happened."
"Never should have —"
"I told you not to shout!"
He was nervous now. His hands were beginning to tremble, and he could feel a sick panic inside him. He felt the way he'd felt that time the Old Man had chewed him out on the bridge. He felt exactly like that. He dropped his butt and stepped on it quickly.
"Are you ready to listen?" she asked.
"Yes. Yes, go on."
"I'm trying to tell you I don't like this sneaking around. You know the regulations as well as I do."
"Regulations! How does that apply to two people in —"
"It applies. It damn well applies, because nursing is my career. I'm not going to get kicked out because of an affair with an enlisted man!"
She almost spat the words out, and they hung in the silence of the compartment, dripping their venom.
"So that's it."
"Look, Claire ..."
"It's over. Please don't try to —"
"Claire, I'm up for another week end soon. We could go to Wilmington again. The same place, Claire. Claire, nobody even knew we were in the service. We could wear civvies again and —"
"Claire, you can't just chuck it all overboard like that."
"Why can't I? Why on earth can't I? Damnit, you're all the same. You date a girl a few times, and right off you think you own her."
"A few times? A few times?" He reached for her. "Claire ..."
"Get away from me," she said. "Please, can't you understand it's no good? Can't you see that?"
He grasped her shoulders viciously and pulled her to him. "No," he said through clenched teeth. "No, I can't see it. I can't see it at all. Claire, baby ..."
"Oh, for God's sake!" She pulled away and reached for the doorknob, and he clamped his fingers onto her wrist. "Let me go," she said tightly.
"Look, you don't want me to start yelling, do you? You know what happens when a nurse screams rape, don't you? Now get your hands off me."
He brought his hand up viciously, almost before he realized what he was doing. The open palm collided with her cheek, and there was the dull sound of the slap, and the stinging sensation on his hand.
She backed away from him and brought her hand up slowly to her cheek. "You're dirty," she said. "You're dirty and filthy and common. I must have been out of my mind."
"I'm ... I'm sorry, Claire. I ..."
"Get out of my way. Open that door or you'll be chopping rocks in Portsmouth tomorrow."
"Claire, you're just upset. You —"
"Do you want me to start screaming?"
"All right! All right, I warned you." She opened her mouth to scream, and a shock sped through him. He reached out and clamped his hand onto her mouth, feeling it slide slippery with lipstick under his palm. She struggled and then tried to bite his hand. She twisted her head, freeing her mouth for an instant, opening it wide in an attempt to scream again.
He seized her throat, and they struggled across the room, crashing into the Sugar George gear, reeling over to slam against one of the plotting tables. A set of sound-powered phones clattered to the deck, and he thought. What happens if I let her go now?
His hands tightened around the soft flesh of her throat, and he felt the muscles cord in protest, stand out in firm relief against his palms. He kept tightening his hands, and she kicked out at him, one shoe falling from her foot. Her eyes bulged in the dim light of the plotting board, wide, wider, and then she shuddered and he felt the shudder and knew it was all over. She hung limply at the end of his arms, and he dropped her quickly to the deck. Her lighted cigarette rolled away from her body, and he stepped on it quickly, grinding it out under his heel.
He looked down at her. Her skirt had hiked up over her thighs, and he saw the taut ribbing of her stockings, the garters biting into her flesh, and he thought, It could have been different.
He was sweating. He wiped the beaded drops from his upper lip, took a last look around the room, and then crossed the corner, ducking under the plotting board. He listened at the door there, heard nothing, and quickly opened it. The door led to the sonar shack. He could avoid the ladder leading to the bridge this way. The guides wouldn't be showing the sound gear, either. He could duck through the sonar shack and then get down to the main deck. He'd mix with the other men, maybe wander toward the fantail, and drop the key to the radar shack over the side.
Rapidly he closed the door behind him.
Chuck Masters sat upright in his bunk. He was wearing a T shirt and gray trousers, and his dog tags pressed their imprint against the thin fabric of his shirt. He lighted a cigarette, looked up at the executive officer, and said, "Mike, I'd prefer to be left off the board. Honestly, I'd prefer it."
Mike Reynolds shook his head. "It can't be done, Chuck. I'm short of lieutenants."
"You can swing it if you want to," Masters said petulantly.
"Can't, believe me. The Old Man wants an investigation board. Damnit, you know how many people are involved in this mess?"
"How many?" Masters asked dryly.
"Plenty. First we got the Squadron Commander by blinker light, and then we sent a messenger with a formal note. Then we had to inform SOPA, and then the Commandant of the Fifth Naval District. SOPA sent over a legal officer and an intelligence officer, and now —"
"Are those the two meatheads I saw sticking their fingers into my radar gear?"
"Yes. They don't count, though. The FBI is on its way."
"The FBI?" Chuck whistled softly. "Why them?"
"First, because there were civilians aboard when the nurse got it, and second, because this ship is a federal reservation. If prosecution is ever started, it'll go right to the U.S. Attorney for trial in a federal district court."
"That's just my point. We've got all these people on it already. Those two meatheads, and now the FBI. Why the hell do we need an investigation board of our own?"
Reynolds shook his head. "You just don't know the Navy. The Old Man has three stripes, and he'd like four. If he can crack this himself, it'll be fine. You think a dead nurse in his radar shack helps him get that fourth stripe?"
"I bleed for him," Masters said.
"Bleed for me a little, Chuck," Reynolds put in quickly. "We need the board. The Old Man says five men and a recorder. He wants a senior member, and I'm it. I need three other members and they should be lieutenants, and I need a junior officer and one of the yeomen as recorder."
"So I've got Carlucci and Davis as my two lieutenants, and I've got Ensign Le Page —"
"I need a junior officer. I've got this yeoman second — what the hell's his name? — Schaefer, yeah, and I need one more lieutenant."
"Why the hell pick on me?"
"Can you think of anyone else? This is a tin can, Chuck, not a battle wagon."
"How about Ed?"
"He's on leave. Look, Chuck, I went over the whole list. You're it."
"Is that an order?"
"Order, hell. If you want to put it that way, yes. It's an order. Now get off your dead rump and put a shirt on. We're meeting in the wardroom in ten minutes. The Old Man wants us to get started before the G-men show up."
"Private eyes," Masters said disgustedly.
Excerpted from Murder in the Navy by Ed McBain. Copyright © 1955 Ed McBain. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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