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About the Author
Lester Dent (1904–1959) was born in La Plata, Missouri. In his mid-twenties, he began publishing pulp fiction stories, and moved to New York City, where he developed the successful Doc Savage Magazine with Henry Ralston, head of Street and Smith, a leading pulp publisher. The magazine ran from 1933 until 1949 and included 181 novel-length stories, of which Dent wrote the vast majority under the house name Kenneth Robeson. He also published mystery novels in a variety of genres, including the Chance Molloy series about a self-made airline owner. Dent’s own life was quite adventurous; he prospected for gold in the Southwest, lived aboard a schooner for a few years, hunted treasure in the Caribbean, launched an aerial photography company, and was a member of the Explorer’s Club.
Read an Excerpt
By Lester Dent
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1948 Lester Dent
All rights reserved.
The wind came hard from the sea all night and she lay sleepless and listened to it bothering the shutters and scuffling the palm fronds together. But finally she must have slept.
At eight o'clock in the morning the rain had its sloshing and threshing against the windows and this awakened her. The awakening had its wild aspects, a bolting upright on the bed, a frightened shaping of her rather nice mouth. But this subsided and she was, after she saw the clock, only angry with herself.
Now, with an urgency driving her, she showered and dressed and did it as rapidly as a man would have done. She had, in many of her ways, the directness of a man. But her body under the shower was richly curved and fully endowed with femininity—at twenty-six she was slim-hipped, clear-skinned, fully exciting. A shade on the voluptuous side. And it could easily be more so had she wished to enhance it with mannerisms and ways of wearing her clothes. As she gripped the rubber shower cap the small diamonds flashed in the wedding ring she still wore. She stripped the cap off. She toweled briskly, then powdered her body. The large powder mitten, wielded in haste, released a fine shower that fell and snowed a spot on the sea-blue bath mat. She frowned at the powder whiteness, for she was equipped with—as most women aren't, but nearly all men are—a distaste for untidiness in the bathroom. Unwillingly, she denied herself the time needed to restore the immaculate air the place enjoyed, and she denied herself also the leisure for the normal female dither about what to wear today and chose the quickest things: gray pin-striped suit, white blouse with a pert foam of ruffles at the neck, and black accessories. Lastly a raincoat of the sea-blue tone she liked.
There were the suitcases. Two. She had packed them last night. They stood, lonely and as meaningful as loaded pistols, on the floor. She left them there.
In twelve minutes she was on the street.
Three minutes later a cream-colored hulk of bus came wallowing from the north, its top frosted with bursting raindrops and its windshield wipers marching back and forth lazily.
She ran from under the drugstore awning where she had waited. Her outflung arm bid for attention, got it. With jerks, cat-spits from the air brakes, the bus halted. With more wrenching the doors drew themselves open in the midst of a heaving and shuffling of bodies inside, and for a moment all the passengers jammed there seemed jostled and crowding, but in the end the mountain labored and birthed a mouse—the bare space for her to wedge in.
"Kinda late, aren't you?" the driver said pleasantly. He had recognized her.
"Yes...." Her hand poised briefly over the fare box; the fare of two nickels fell in and tinkled.
She moved back and found a place, a hand strap to clutch. She did not cling to the strap with any air of being settled at all. However, she was tall enough to strap hang easily, gracefully. Her hair had the color of good pine, a shade a trifle lighter than honey blond, and where her raincoat cowl had not covered it, it was rain-wetted. She explored this dampness with her fingers, but absently.
She waited for the bus to start, and it gave a kind of bucking jump and stopped again without really having gotten going. The door, folding open, became a damp mouth that waited for someone—for a soft little man. For a small, smiling, unhard man who was named Arbogast. She stared at Mr. Arbogast. She was astonished.
That Mr. Arbogast did not fit in a public bus was her immediate thought.
She knew Mr. Arbogast. She had designed him a sailing yacht. He had spent a deal of time looking at her legs. The yacht, named Vameric, had just been completed by the Collins Yard, which employed her. And she happened to know that Mr. Arbogast had paid the yard $168,666.66 to date. Also he was a lawyer. Evidently that sort of a lawyer, improbable as it seemed.
It had always been her impression that Mr. Arbogast should be displayed only on soft velvet.
Why? Well, she had thought, there is a difference in the way of people with their money. Some have it in a mellowed, aged-in-the-wood fashion. On others it is a shiny varnish. Mr. Arbogast was definitely the first type, cured-in-wood, or at least thoroughly saturated with it so that he had what the wine fanciers call bouquet and body and flavor. It was something that she imagined wasn't developed in a single generation. Mr. Arbogast's family had been well-fixed, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, a long way back. She had surmised so when she first met him, and later heard it was true.
He did not see her. The bus got going. It was an old bus full of agony sounds and jerking and it continually threw forces against the passengers. Mr. Arbogast buried his face in a newspaper. He did not even bother to hang to a hand strap, but displayed a blissful dependence on his fellow creatures, seeming sublimely sure that no one was going to let him fall down, even should the bus do its worst.
She, who was not a dependent sort, who resented a clinging attitude in others, frowned at Mr. Arbogast. She was not irked that he could write checks for $168,666.66. She had no feeling against a society that produced successive generations of a family who could do that, as she understood Mr. Arbogast's predecessors had been able to do. But she was irked that anyone, a man at that, would sweetly depend on others even for keeping him on his two feet. Occasionally his roundish shoulders would jerk slightly and the tan cloth of his suit coat would twitch like the hide of a fat pony on which a fly had alighted—a sign of nothing more serious than being amused with the news in the paper he was reading.
The news item that titillated Mr. Arbogast was a Washington scandal, she observed by stretching her neck. This was logical. Mr. Arbogast was something significant with the RFC in Miami. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation, the lending agency. One could be practical and say he was the RFC here. So Washington muckraking would naturally interest him.
She felt, too, that Mr. Arbogast was a man who would taste scandal with pleasure. Muck would have flavor for him, for she suspected him of having a porcine mind. Others did too. She'd overheard someone at the yard remark that Mr. Arbogast would make a fitting picture if baked brownly, basted, cloved, and served with a Jonathan apple in his mouth. She didn't agree. Velvet was Mr. Arbogast's setting, preferably a harem shade. She remembered how he had looked at her legs.
Add trivia on Mr. Arbogast: he was fifty-three, twice married and twice divorced. His office suite in the Biscayne Center Building was impressive, where incidentally Mr. Arbogast's inner sanctum seemed to be artfully arranged so that there was no reasonable place for a female to sit where Mr. Arbogast could not conduct observations. She presumed he applied this to all human females. Not that he was aggressive about it; it was just something soft that you couldn't very well avoid any more than being near a radiator without feeling its warmth.... Mr. Arbogast had a married daughter in St. Louis. Agnes was the daughter's name, and Mr. Arbogast had told her about Agnes and about Agnes's husband, who was an alderman, the Fourth Ward. Mr. Arbogast was originally from St. Louis. He liked Miami much more, he said, and added that he had a lovely apartment in the Cascades.
If this was a picture of a lonely old gentleman with money, it lacked something. She had no idea exactly what was missing. But whatever was absent was probably important.
This was a lot of thought, considering her upset state, to give Mr. Arbogast. But she had one added reflection: it would be good to know your way comfortably and to follow it confidently, sweetly dependent on others as Mr. Arbogast seemed to be.
Presently Mr. Arbogast's eyes left the newsprint. He ducked his head to peer under a fellow rider's elbow at the window, but the rain-opaqued window did not tell him where they were, and he threw an impatient glance about.
"Sarah! Sarah Lineyack!" Plump lips springing warmly from large white teeth, Mr. Arbogast smiled at discovering her. "Why, Sarah!"
"Good morning, Mr. Arbogast," she said.
She was not happy about being discovered.
Mr. Arbogast smiled more widely. He tossed nod and cheerful grimace at the window, said, "Great weather, Sarah. Lovely!"
It wasn't. The weather was filthy. And this was what he really meant, too. She had learned that Mr. Arbogast's thoughts, ways, and moods had well-worn subterranean channels for themselves and kept to these channels and never scampered around aboveground, perhaps lest they startle someone and detract from the soft effect that was Mr. Arbogast.
"Did you wish for a bright day for test-sailing our ship, Sarah?" Mr. Arbogast asked.
She hesitated and then said, "I don't mind rain particularly."
"That's good," he declared gaily. "Then I was feeling sorry for you for nothing."
"A ship born on a foul day is a lucky ship all its days," Sarah murmured, phrasing an old omen.
The smile flickered on Mr. Arbogast's lips like a tiny acrobat. "Ah, indeed! You don't say. You're very salty, Sarah. For a woman, you're a remarkably salty person."
She said, "The newspapermen won't like the rain. And the photographers won't be able to get good pictures of Vameric."
Mr. Arbogast chuckled. His sandy eyebrows arched gleefully. "Rain or shine, they'll love our ship, Sarah. I know they will."
"I hope so," she said.
"Oh, they will. Vameric is wonderful, Sarah."
"Thank you, Mr. Arbogast," she said.
Her smile was rather meaningless, she knew. She did not feel that her unconcern was quite natural. Vameric, the fine outside racing ketch that she had designed and the yard had just built—it should be closer to her heart than this. Vameric was her first noteworthy chance at designing a really fine deep-sea racer; the vessel was important to her economic future, vitally so. If Vameric proved to have that intangible extra something that is the difference between mere excellence and fame—if the man from Yachting Magazine liked her, and Captain Most, and the others who counted—then Sarah stood established, suddenly prominent in a field, yacht designing, where few women had dared intrude. Behold, they would say. Lo, a new genius, and a woman at that! This they would say in astonishment, not knowing that the sea had molded in one way or another each day of her life.
But, really, what Mr. Arbogast thought of Vameric didn't amount to much. He was not, to use his own word, salty. Sarah had long ago seen that he just wanted the kind of a boat that would get himself a lot of attention. She was sorry about that.
"Sarah!" chortled Mr. Arbogast. "Sarah, do you know what Captain Most said about Vameric?"
Surprised, she asked, "Captain Most has seen the ship?"
He nodded. "Sarah, listen! Here's what Most said! He said: 'That one's going to sing.'"
She bent her head; pride was a low warmth in her cheeks. If Most had said that, it was not a compliment, but sincerity, which was far more. She could not at the moment think of a reply.
"Is that good?" Mr. Arbogast asked.
"I'd say so."
Mr. Arbogast's manner glowed with delight and he was for the moment, as nearly as a man might, purring. He said, "Then I'm pleased! I understand Most is a competent man."
"Competent," Sarah replied, "is a rabbit word. A rabbit word for a legend, I mean."
"Indeed? He's that good, is he? Then I'm fortunate to acquire him for my captain."
She nodded. "Just like getting yourself Christmas every day of the year."
"Do you know him well?"
"Captain Most? Oh, I was introduced to him years ago. I've sailed in races—half a dozen maybe—that he was in, and won. But I don't think I ever exchanged fifty words with him until we were reintroduced yesterday."
Mr. Arbogast's chuckle gurgled like syrup simmering. "I'll tell you a secret. Captain Most wasn't at all anxious to take the job until he saw our Vameric."
Mr. Arbogast nodded. "But don't worry! He likes the boat. Most is taking the job. He phoned me last night, saying so."
Now Mr. Arbogast ducked his head, shot a startled glance through the windows. "Oh my!" he said. "The yard! We must get off here!" He endeavored to seize the cord that needed to be pulled to stop the bus, but he had neither height nor reach for it; he was like a puppy jumping vainly for a bone. Any ordinary man would have blushed. But Mr. Arbogast only looked up at Sarah. "Would you pull the string?" he asked mildly.
Mr. Arbogast got off with care, turning sidewise, and while he was doing so, Sarah saw Captain Most waiting under the awning of the lunchroom near by.
Captain Most, thumbing tobacco into his pipe, came forward. Mr. Arbogast greeted him and added something else with a swing of his head in Sarah's direction. He was calling Most's attention to her, and Most responded with the air of having just realized she was there. Sarah felt that Most had seen her at once; she already suspected that he rarely missed anything.
Most came onto the bus, waited at the step for her, his face turned slightly from the rain. He did not offer to assist her the step down from the bus, and she concluded that Most was never guilty of gentle gallantry.
"Bye, Sarah," said Mr. Arbogast happily. To Most he said, "I'll be in Mr. Collins' office, Captain." And he left then.
"Congratulations, Mrs. Lineyack," Most said.
She hesitated and then replied, "A little soon for that, isn't it?"
"Could be," Most said. "But I don't think so. Your boat's all right."
These were not strong words, but from Captain Most they were significant. She lifted her eyes to Most's face; her smile was grateful. And she recalled a thought she'd had of him about his size: He's a big man, and bigger than you think until you stand near him, and inside he's probably like that too. His face had a homely angularity, not unpleasant. It, like his hair, had been out in the sun a lot.
"Thank you, Captain Most," Sarah said gravely.
"I'll buy you"—his head inclined toward the lunchroom—"a cup of coffee."
Surprise threw confusion of a rather warm sort upon her. "Oh, I—I can't. I'm sorry," she said. "I'm supposed to meet someone. He's probably waiting."
Most nodded, but with no enthusiasm, and he took a match from a waterproof case, ticked it alight on a strong thumbnail, applied it to the bowl of the pipe which he had been holding hooded in his hand. He produced some smoke gloomily, then drew the pipe from his teeth and murmured, "Some other time, then."
Why, the invitation was important to him, Sarah decided.
"Perhaps," she replied, and was conscious of some disappointment when Most clamped down on the pipe again and turned away. He was not a man who threw many words around, apparently.
The wind gave a fight for her raincoat, drops of rain hit her face, and she walked toward the lunchroom. A man like that, she thought, could be very good or very bad for a woman.CHAPTER 2
The lunchroom door resisted her, the wind a live force against it; then it gave, and she stumbled inside....
Her man was not there. His name was Calvin Brandeis Brill. A lawyer. About thirty-five, slightly built, and with a long face that lay in dour planes. He wasn't there.
Her eyes went to the grease-fogged clockface above the short-order grill. The hands stood at two minutes past nine. The lawyer had said he would be there at eight-thirty.
The counterman greeted her and she replied, "Good morning, Mike. Has anyone been asking for me?"
"A thin, dark man, an attorney?"
"Huh-uh," Mike said, and then asked, "Coffee as per usual—no sugar and heavy on the cream?"
"Yes, I guess so."
The table she chose, and carried her coffee to, was small and very obviously a table for two. She selected it because of that and tilted the other of the two chairs forward against the table edge as a sign that it was taken. Sinking into the other chair, she was quite aware of tension, the mere act of bending her legs at the knees was a consciousness.
Unbuttoning her raincoat filled out a few moments and she did it slowly; each move now was calculated to help with waiting. She sugared her coffee. She moved her purse to two different spots on the table, as if it was of some importance where the purse lay. Finally, from the pinwheel her thoughts had become, she selected a sturdy niche—Captain Most—and in this haven her speculations moved more safely.
Most was one of those men who are legends within a profession and hardly heard of outside it. He was also one of those men about whom tales are told when the teller has need of the unusual. Most, they said, had twice crossed the Atlantic single-handed in sailboats less than thirty feet long before he was twenty years old. Tales like that. Violently adventurous.
Captain Most was what is known in yachting circles as a professional. A paid skipper. He had captained winning craft in the toughest cruising races—twice he had won the Norway race, and the Bermuda one oftener. The man, at sea with his eye on the luff of a sail, was surely an artist.
Excerpted from Lady Afraid by Lester Dent. Copyright © 1948 Lester Dent. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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