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West of Guam
Introducing Jo Gar, Manhunter....
Coral reef and green cliff—one showing a jagged edge of white in the blue water; the other a rising splash of color—were falling astern of the Army transport Thomas. The heat was terrific; the breeze was a hot blast sweeping the decks of the heavily laden transport. Five days more, with favorable weather, and the boat would reach Manila.
Five hot days and nights, west of Guam.
Colonel Dunbar, infantry officer in charge of troops aboard, sat in the wicker chair of his cabin, let the electric fan bathe his sticky skin with warm air and cursed. It was his second Island job—and he didn't look forward to the arrival with much enthusiasm. He was sore because the West Point assignment hadn't come his way. He was sore because the transport was crowded with troops and civilians. He was sore because it had been so infernally hot since they had put out from Honolulu. A rotten trip.
There was a sudden pounding of heavy shoes along the deck. Burker, his orderly, stiffened near the open door of the cabin. His face was strangely white; the muscles of his mouth were twitching.
"It's—Captain Lintwell sir!" he muttered. "Major Jones found him—"
The orderly broke off. He was breathing heavily. Evidently he had run up from a lower deck. The colonel was impatient.
"Captain Lintwell—what about him, Burker? Get on with it—"
"He's dead, sir!"
The orderly got the words out all bunched up, but the commanding officer understood them. He jerked himself out of the wicker chair.
"The hell you say!" he snapped "Lintwell—dead? How?"
The orderly was calmer now. He stood stiffly, as though he were reciting a section of the manual.
"Major Jones said he was murdered, sir. The major found him. Up front, on C Deck. A bullet through his head—the back of it—"
The colonel swore sharply. He swore because it irritated him to think that after twenty-five days aboard a transport his orderly could be stupid enough to designate a spot on the boat as "up front." His lips formed the word "forward," and he forgot about the orderly, and the orderly's stupidity. He moved out of the cabin, went forward. His lean, browned face held a frown.
There had been three deaths at sea, from natural causes. There had been one drowning. A civilian's wife had lost all of her hair and a portion of her scalp, through carelessness near an electric fan. A sergeant had run amuck because of heat and smuggled booze—and had put two of the transport's crew in the ship's hospital. And now—Captain Lintwell had been murdered!
The colonel descended the forward companionway. He hadn't particularly liked Lintwell. The captain had played too good a game of bridge, and had played too loose with other officers' wives. But murder—that was a rotten trick. It would have to be cleared up. Before the transport reached Manila. Five days, five nights. The colonel was on B Deck now. He swore savagely. Perhaps there had been some mistake. He'd get a different orderly, anyway. "Up front!"
He was descending the companionway between B and C Decks now. There was a circle of khaki clad figures below—ten feet or so from the bottom step. A voice called—"'Tention!" in a husky tone. Men straightened up—most of them were officers.
"Ease!" Dunbar snapped. "Where's Major Jones?"
The adjutant moved up close—the others moved away. Major Jones was short and thickset. He had a bristling, gray mustache, and even the heat of the tropics failed to destroy his efficiency.
"Rotten business, Joe," he muttered in a low voice. "They got him—back of the head. I was going below, found him."
The colonel stared down at the handsome face of Captain Jerry Lintwell. The man had a half smile on his face; his lips were drawn back slightly over his white, even teeth. The deck boards were stained with red. The colonel swore grimly. He started to kneel beside the dead captain, changed his mind.
"Keep everyone off this section of the deck, Adjutant!" he ordered crisply. "Two M.P.s should be able to see to that. Send for Major Vane—"
"I've done that," Jones stated quietly. "He sent word from the hospital that Private Bulking is having convulsions—that he'll get up here as soon as he can. Lieutenant Robards came along right after I found him here—he found there was no pulse. Dead ten minutes or so, he said."
"He guessed," the commanding officer corrected. "Very good—come up above with me, Adjutant. See about the guard first."
Jones moved away and gave orders. The colonel glanced at his wrist watch. It was five minutes past four. He looked down at the murdered man again. Browned skin was becoming a bit yellow. He noted that Lintwell's uniform was immaculate, as usual. Then he moved towards the steps of the companionway, climbed. There was a mild swell now. The effort of the trip down below had soaked him in perspiration. He felt vexed and irritable.
"Have that killer—by dark!" he muttered. "Damned fool to think he could get away with—that sort of stuff!"
It was almost midnight. The Thomas nosed her way through a phosphorescent sea, rocking lazily in a mild swell. Guam was behind—miles behind. The night was hot, filled with stars. The transport steamed to the westward. In the colonel's cabin five men were gathered. Four of them were officers—one was a civilian. The colonel was speaking.
"It stands like this: At precisely thirty seconds after the ship's bells had struck four o'clock, Major Jones came up from D Deck and found the body of Captain Lintwell. Lieutenant Robards was next on the scene—that medical officer pronounced the captain dead. He stated that he did not believe Lintwell had been dead more than ten minutes. There was no one about when Jones, here, came along. Major Vane probed—the bullet is regulation. Colt .45. Major Vane feels that death was instantaneous. The bullet entered the back of the head—and almost emerged back of the left eye. Major Vane and I both feel that suicide was extremely unlikely." The commanding officer smiled faintly. His eyes went to those of the transport captain—Hungerford. That gentleman said nothing. He merely shrugged his shoulders. Majors Jones and Vane merely nodded their heads. The civilian spoke:
"Not suicide," he stated tonelessly but with assurance. "Lintwell was left-handed. The entrance point of the bullet was slightly to the right of the head, just above the neck. The bullet traveled towards the left eye. Impossible for a left-handed man to shoot that way—couldn't bend the wrist that much. Death was instantaneous but we can't find the Colt. Very little chance that Lintwell could have shot—then flung the gun overboard."
The colonel grunted. His eyes were on the civilian. He rather disliked all civilians; Jo Gar was no exception. He didn't like the name, in the first place. He didn't like the lack of emotion that Gar exhibited. And he didn't like Gar's looks.
The civilian half closed his blue-gray eyes, relaxed in the uncomfortable chair. His body swayed slightly as the transport rolled. He was a young man, but he looked rather old. His hair was gray; he was medium in size, but because of the loose way he carried himself he appeared rather small. His face was brown—very brown. He had good teeth, a narrow lipped mouth, fine features. His eyes were slightly almond-shaped, and they were seldom normally opened. They held a peculiar squint. Jo Gar wore soiled white trousers and a white shirt. His shoes had once been white, but his quarters on D Deck had prevented them from remaining so. He had abandoned socks at the same time that the Thomas had abandoned Honolulu.
"Captain Hungerford tells me that you have done some fine crime detection work, in the Islands, Mr. Gar." The colonel smiled with his lips. "He suggested, when we were making no progress, our calling you up here. We shall go right along with our investigation, of course—but we thought you might work—say, under cover."
Jo Gar smiled with half closed eyes. He spoke tonelessly, as always. "It is the better way—under cover. Your blundering will help me."
The colonel flushed. He tapped on the seat of his wicker chair with a couple of knuckles. Major Jones swore beneath his breath.
"I fail to see where we have blundered," he stated simply. Jo Gar continued to smile with lazy, blue-gray eyes.
"You have not," he replied. "I spoke in the future tense."
The colonel grunted. Only Captain Hungerford was smiling, and he allowed his dark eyes to meet the eyes of Gar. The colonel became sarcastic.
"We have called you in, Mr. Gar. That was damn sensible, wasn't it?"
The toneless-voiced one smiled faintly. He shook his head.
"It was very stupid," he stated. "But it was not a blunder. I came up alone—and I made sure that no one knew I was coming. In fact, I planted an alibi for myself. But that isn't important—it's done. There is a civilian under guard below—and he has a tongue. I caught up with him in two months, Colonel. He didn't expect me to do that. He thinks he is fairly clever—therefore he thinks—I am extremely clever. If he is believed by the enlisted men—"
"An enlisted man didn't murder Captain Lintwell." The colonel was emphatic. "Only a few of them carry Colts."
"One of them—was sufficient," Jo Gar stated. "You blunder, Colonel. You are sure of something. That is bad—one should never be sure."
The colonel was holding back angry words. The civilian got to his feet.
"I'm going to talk with a certain lieutenant who told his wife she was a fool, two nights ago," he said slowly. "I want to know why he told her that."
The colonel stared at him.
He spoke grimly.
"How do you know he told her she was a fool?" he demanded.
Jo Gar smiled without opening his eyes very far. He stood near the door.
"You are a truthful man, Colonel," he stated. "I overheard you telling Major Jones that the lieutenant had done so."
He nodded good-night to the three other officers, smiled at the colonel. He went from the cabin very quietly. There were no footfall sounds. The colonel swore harshly.
"The man's a fool—or a genius!" he muttered.
Captain Hungerford lighted his pipe, got to his feet and stretched. "It'll take one of the two—to get this killer," he stated quietly. "And
Jo Gar has the genius of playing a fool, Colonel."
"No motive—no clues," Major Jones muttered. "Beats the devil, it does!"
Colonel Dunbar reached for his pitcher of ice water. Civilians aboard a transport annoyed him. Ship's bells. Midnight. Eight hours of work, and they had gotten nowhere. He looked out through the cabin door opening. The transport swung lazily towards the Islands. She was a slow boat. This trip she was a death boat. And aboard her was a killer.
"The men know of the murder, of course?" The colonel felt foolish when he asked that.
Jones replied. "Of course—and the roll call showed everybody was aboard, including all of the ship's crew."
The colonel shook his head slowly. He was hot, tired and irritated. "We'll work out the report tomorrow, Adjutant," he said grimly.
"For the present we'll just rate it murder—west of Guam!"
Jo Gar lay stretched on a hatch cover, aft of the radio room. He appeared to be sleeping—the hot, tropical sun beat down on his body. He was not sleeping. And the sun did not dull his brain. Jo was thinking.
"So many motives," he murmured to himself. "The colonel no doubt is a fine soldier. In this matter he is the great blunderer."
Jo Gar thought best under circumstances which would have dulled most human's brains. But Jo had been born in the tropics, raised in the Islands. With his body slugged by heat—his brain was most active. It was almost noon now, and he had come from a chat with the colonel. He had read the colonel's report—even in it there was a blunder. Jo Gar detested errors.
"The murder," he had pointed out to the colonel, "was not committed west of Guam. You have it written so here. The transport was steaming beneath the cliffs, almost, when Captain Lintwell was shot down. Agana was not to the eastward."
The colonel had stared, then had sworn grimly.
"Find the killer—never mind such small details," he had gritted. "For example—why didn't someone hear the shot? A Colt makes a noise."
Jo Gar had only smiled. He felt that the commanding officer had little confidence in him. He had got away as soon as was possible. Now he stirred his baking limbs, chuckled.
"So does steam escaping—make a noise," he murmured. "There is the Marine post, atop the cliffs. And the flag that is dipped. And the salute by whistle. Three blasts. That is good!"
He sat up on the hatch, swung his legs over the edge. Up on A Deck he caught a flash of white. A woman was swinging along rather briskly. It was very hot—and the woman was Lieutenant Solter's wife. She was very young and very beautiful. The night before the transport had reached Guam her husband had told her, heatedly, that she was a fool. He had pointed out that Captain Lintwell's reputation was not an enviable one. He had suggested that his wife walk the deck less in the captain's company.
Jo Gar smiled faintly. Helen Solter was doing so, at the moment. It was she who had told him, with reluctance, that her husband had rather hated Captain Lintwell. The captain was owed much bridge money by Lieutenant Briggs. Charlie Briggs was her husband's best friend. Her husband disliked gamblers, anyway. Captain Lintwell had been a gambler. And Helen Solter had also assured Jo Gar that her husband had been at her side, watching the Island of Guam slide out of sight, for fully a half hour after the transport had started to steam out from her anchorage beyond the coral reefs.
As for Lieutenant Briggs, he had been below, with his company. Sergeant Walker had accompanied him during an inspection. The alibis of the two lieutenants were excellent.
"So many motives," Jo Gar murmured as he got to his feet, "and not a clue."
He went to his quarters and dressed rather immaculately in white. Outside the colonel's cabin he found a private with red hair and a cheerful grin. Privates were not allowed on A Deck, so Jo Gar guessed out loud.
"You are possibly the colonel's new orderly? He told me he contemplated a change."
The orderly nodded. "He fired Sam Burker—I'm the new orderly. My name's Tod Harraker, and at the time the murder was committed I was—"
Jo Gar smiled. "It doesn't matter where you were, Tod," he stated. "Where will I find Burker?"
The new orderly told Jo where he thought Burker might be found. The door of the colonel's cabin opened, and Dunbar frowned at him. The orderly stiffened.
"Why Burker?" the colonel demanded of Gar. "He's too dumb to know anything about a murder."
Jo smiled more broadly. But his voice was as toneless as ever. "Stupidity is sometimes a virtue, Colonel," he philosophized. "I wanted to know something about music—I hear that Burker plays a mouth organ."
The colonel swore. Jo Gar moved forward along the deck. Near the starboard companionway he almost ran into Mrs. Solter. She was rather pale. She looked ill, despite the fact that the Thomas was navigating through a sea of glass.
"Have you learned anything, Mr. Gar?" she asked in a low tone.
Jo nodded. It seemed to him that Helen Solter was breathing heavily.
"Many things," he replied. "All unimportant."
He imagined there was a flickering expression of relief in her dark eyes. But he wasn't sure. He bowed and moved down the steps of the companionway. On C Deck, aft, he discovered the former orderly. Burker was lying in the shade of a ventilator, with his eyes closed. He was lying on his back. Jo moved up close, careful that his figure cast no shadow in the sunlight beyond the reclining private. His rubber-soled shoes allowed him to move quietly. From a pocket of his white trousers he drew an Army Colt. He squeezed the trigger.
Excerpted from West of Guam by Raoul Whitfield, Arthur Rodman Bowker. Copyright © 2014 MysteriousPress.com. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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