It’s morning in Key West, and Pamela North has gone fishing for pelicans. Her husband, Jerry, insists it’s impossible to go fishing for birds, but when he finds her later on, she’s surrounded by pelicans on all sides. He shouldn’t be surprised; Pamela has made a career out of doing the impossible—and she’s not finished yet.
A blizzard is battering New York City, but the Norths have come south for sun and sand and a spot of tennis in old Key West. Murder wasn’t on their agenda, but Pamela has a way of finding it wherever she goes. She’s just gone out for another morning of luring pelicans when she finds a local physician at the end of the pier, a bullet in his chest and his blood all over the dock. The birds will have to wait; the Norths are about to go fishing for a killer.
Murder by the Book is the 26th book in the Mr. and Mrs. North Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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Murder by the Book
A Mr. and Mrs. North Mystery
By Frances Lockridge, Richard Lockridge
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1961 Frances and Richard Lockridge
All rights reserved.
Gerald North woke up and said, "But pelicans are birds." He said this firmly, as one might who planned to have no argument about it. He heard each word, and each word distinct, even emphatic. He had announced, to an unfamiliar ceiling, that pelicans were birds. There could be no doubt of this. He rather wished there might be.
He turned on his side and looked at the next bed, in which Pamela North should be lying. She was not. I will go back to sleep, Gerald North thought, and wake up again and start it all over — start it in a room which is not strange, with a wife where she ought to be, and certainly with no announcement about pelicans. Pelicans, for the love of God! What are pelicans to me or I to ...
There was, he began to realize, something in his subconscious. It squirmed; it was rather like a tickle. It was not a pelican; too small for that. But it was, on the other hand, not not a pelican. A dream about a pelican? About, perhaps, a pelican who had carried away Pamela North? He leafed over such dreams as he could lay his mind on. If Pam had been carried away by anything, look under "Nightmares." If ...
Gerald North's subconscious said the hell with it, and opened enough to be peeked into. Its interior was dim, foggy. But there was something moving in it. For some seconds, what was moving kept slipping back into the fog. But then ...
It was Pam moving, lightly, quickly. It was Pam putting on shorts and a pull-over shirt. He was —
"Go back to sleep," Pam said, in the fog of a dream which was not quite right for a dream. "It's early yet. I'm going out to fish for pelicans."
Jerry North sat on the side of his bed and ran the fingers of both hands through his hair. That was it, all right. Pam had got up and partly awakened him and said she was going out to fish for pelicans. Jerry had a momentary wish he had left that bit in his subconscious where, if anywhere, it belonged. Had he then told Pam a fact about pelicans and, contented at having set her straight, gone back to sleep? Or had he, himself sleepily satisfied, said only, "Mmmm," or some such thing, before he was asleep again? He was inclined to think the latter. A few words would have saved Pam from disappointment, and he had not spoken the words. Somewhere — probably out on the pier — Pam was hopefully fishing for pelicans.
Jerry released his head and stood up, and finally did waken. He was in their room in The Coral Isles, city of Key West, state of Florida. That sharded brightness so painful to the eyes came from the Atlantic Ocean, with the morning sun on it. The time was eight-fifteen, the date the fourteenth of February, the temperature was already in the seventies. From the window of their room, Jerry could not see the fishing pier. He had better, he decided, dress and go find Pam and tell her she hadn't a prayer, because pelicans are birds.
The Coral Isles was barely half awake. In the lobby a man was pushing a vacuum cleaner back and forth; on the deep porch on the ocean side the chairs were in an orderly row, their backs to the wall. A man was sprinkling the crab grass. (No. Mustn't be impolite. The Bermuda grass.) At the far end of the two-hundred-foot pier there was a small figure.
Jerry took the path to the pier. Larry Saunders, the tennis pro, was dragging a heavy brush back and forth across the near court. He flicked a hand in greeting; he said it was going to be another warm one; he hoped it wasn't going to be so windy. Jerry went past the swimming pool. A very tanned young man in white trunks was cleaning it. Jerry went past the sunning enclosure in the lee of the bathhouse — and, according to the brochure, the solaria and the new and fully equipped gymnasium. Nobody was sunning yet.
He went out onto the long, narrow pier — a wooden structure on piles above the glittering water of the Atlantic. (Unless, by this time, the Atlantic had become the Gulf?) The crepe soles of his Keds made little sound on the planking.
It was Pam, all right. She was on the platform at the end of the pier — the stubby crossing of an elongated T. Her back was to him, and she was unquestionably fishing. And —
Jerry stopped in midstep. And — she had caught pelicans!
There was a pelican to the right of her on the platform, and a pelican to the left of her. They were large and motionless; crouching pelicans, with preposterous pouches under their bills.
Damn it all, Jerry thought. They are birds. You don't —
Pam pulled up her line. If she's caught another, Jerry thought, I'll — I'll — He put a hand on the nearer rail to steady himself.
A small bright object dangled at the end of Pam North's line. One of the pelicans got up, and extended its big wings, as if it were stretching. It waddled a step nearer Pam North.
Pam detached a small fish from the hook, and turned to the pelican and said, "Here" and tossed. The little fish disappeared into the large pelican. The pelican moved back and sat down.
All right, Jerry North thought. Language is a clumsy thing, full of knobs. "For pelicans." All right. "For" pelicans if one liked. "In behalf of pelicans" would, certainly, have made things clearer — a little clearer. He went on, joined Pam.
"That Miss Brownley left yesterday," Pam said. "She's been fishing for them every morning. They're so trusting, the poor things."
Jerry looked from pelican to pelican.
"I can't," Jerry North said, "say they look it. Are they sick or something?"
One of the pelicans made a somewhat guttural noise at him. It was the one who had not got the last fish.
"Why sick?" Pam said. "I don't think they're sick. They have fine appetites. All right." The last was, Jerry gathered, to the more talkative of the pelicans. Pam dropped her line in again.
"Is there," Jerry said, "some reason they can't do their own fishing?"
"Probably forgotten how," Pam said. "Would you if you didn't have to?"
The pelican which had spoken stood up, stretched wings, and advanced two steps. It had, Jerry thought, a definite let's-get-on-with-it attitude. "I know it's your turn," Pam said. "As soon as —" She pulled her line in sharply, and another bright fish twisted in the sunlight. Pam North said "Here," again, and tossed again.
"And," Pam said, "the soup kitchen is closing for the day." She reeled her line in and both pelicans watched her through red eyes. Then the pelican who had eaten last said something rather like "awrk" and made a small hop and extended wings and went off, looking like an old-fashioned flying boat. The other pelican watched and it occurred to Jerry its eyes had a bet-I-could-do-that expression. It looked at Pam. "No," Pam said. "Maybe tomorrow." The pelican flew away.
"I," Pamela North said, "smell like a fish."
They walked back along the pier, which extended north and south from sand to ocean, and over ocean. Jerry walked on Pam's left; at Key West the trade winds are easterly.
"A little," Jerry said. "Down here almost everything does. Are you going to adopt those pelicans?" He paused briefly. "Birds," he said. He still felt vaguely that that ought to be kept straight.
Pam has a tendency to extend protection to all creatures, whatever their plumage, the number of their legs, she feels may be in need of it. Jerry could, offhand, think of no special reasons why pelicans should be excluded.
"They look healthy enough to me," he added.
"Heavy flyers," Pam said. "As if they were too big for themselves. Of course, they do like early breakfasts." Pam yawned, and covered yawning. She looked at her hand reproachfully. "Very like a fish," she said. "I expect as I get adjusted."
One learns by experience, of which Gerald North has had considerable. Pamela's last remark was therefore, to him, entirely comprehensible. Of recent months, Pam had developed a habit of waking early. It was to be expected, and by Jerry greatly hoped, that the soft air of the South, the listlessness of vacation, would return her to more reasonable ways. If it did, the pelicans could awrk for their breakfasts. (As long, of course, as they remained in health.)
"Awrk," Jerry said, experimentally. It did not sound much like a pelican asking to be fed. Pam, reasonably enough, said, "Huh?"
"Worked with the pelicans," Jerry said. "Say 'awrk' and get your breakfast."
"It didn't sound like 'awrk' to me," Pam said. "But have it your own way. I'll have to shower and change first."
They reached the shore end of the pier and Pam leaned her rod against the bathhouse. There was still no one in the sunning place. At the fresh-water pool, the tanned young man in white trunks was putting pads on wooden chaises. Larry Saunders was brushing the second tennis court. The man was still watering crab grass. Mr. Grogan stood at the head of the steps which led up to the porch of The Coral Isles. Mr. Grogan had the red face of a man who, by choice and profession, spends most of his time in the sun and who does not tan. He had snowy white hair; a wave of white hair crested from forehead to nape of neck.
"Beautiful morning," Mr. Grogan told the Norths. "Going to be a fine day. Probably get to eighty or thereabouts."
The managing director of a resort hotel is concerned with such matters, keeping one eye on the thermometer and the other on the guest roster.
"Been feeding Teddy and Freddy?" Mr. Grogan said.
Pam said, "Pelicans?"
"People call them Teddy and Freddy," Mr. Grogan said. "I've no idea why. Freddy and Frederica, for all I know. Don't even know if it's always the same two."
"Pelicans," Pam North said, "do look like pelicans."
"There's that, Mrs. North," Mr. Grogan said. "May be different ones every time. Anyway, there are always two when anybody fishes there. Freeloaders." He looked with approval out over the sparkling Atlantic, a desirable facility for any resort hotel. "Putting on weight, they are," he said. "Probably take it off in the summer, though."
This was winter. Here, it was hard to remember that. Driving the day before through the city of Key West they had slowed to ten, or thereabouts, in school zones, and Pam, speaking for them both, and speaking in wonderment, had said, "Schools open? This time of year?" and, after a momentary pause, "Oh. Of course."
This was not summer. This was February. In the summer, there would be none to feed pelicans. Pelicans would have to fend for themselves.
A youth in a red jacket came out of the lobby. Mr. Grogan was apparently still looking at the ocean. But, in some fashion, he saw the youth behind him. He said, "All right, Jimmy," and "Have a good day," to the Norths, and went back into the hotel, his crested hair a white sail in the easterlies.
"I won't be a minute," Pam said, when they were, themselves, inside. "You get a table."
Jerry got the Miami Herald. "New Blizzard Sweeps North," the streamer headline said. The day before, the headline had read: "Icy Blasts Batter Northland." Today's story, under a New York date line, began: "Three inches of snow covered New York City today in the wake of a coastal storm which brought winds of more than twenty miles an hour and subfreezing temperatures to the entire metropolitan area." A blizzard, Jerry thought, is in the eye of the beholder. Or, of course, the headline writer.
He sat in the lobby, reading the Herald. The world wagged as gloomily as ever, but for the most part on the second page. There had been a three-car smashup on Biscayne Boulevard. Somebody had managed to drive off the Sunshine Turnpike at an estimated ninety. The mysterious disappearance of "heiress" remained mysterious.
The alarm clock which ticks in proper husbands tinkled in Jerry's mind. Of Pam's minute, fifteen had elapsed. He went into the dining room and was led to a table by a window. He ordered orange juice, in honor of the state, and coffee, in pursuance of a mounting need. They, and Pam, arrived simultaneously. Pam was dressed for tennis. She carried mail.
There was a large brown envelope with "North Books, Inc.," and an address in the upper left-hand corner. Jerry North sighed, the sigh of a man pursued. He put the envelope in his pocket. There was a letter with "Mrs. William Weigand" and an address printed on the flap. Dorian Weigand wrote in envy. Bill Weigand wrote a postscript: "Murders routine. Regards cordial."
"So we'll know we're not missing anything," Pam said. "Nice of Bill."
"Dull days at Homicide West," Jerry said, and knew that the days there were never really dull; that Captain William Weigand was not finding that time hung heavy. Homicide is endemic in Manhattan, West Side or East. It was pleasant to think that here, as far south as one could get in the United States, only fish would die by violence — fish, and of course motorists.
They finished breakfast. The New York Times and the Herald Tribune had not arrived. "Terrible weather up there," the girl at the newsstand said, happily. "I understand all the planes are grounded." On the porch they divided the Miami Herald, which is susceptible to almost infinite subdivision. People in bathing suits walked in front of them. Most of the women carried enormous bags, and most of these were made of brightly colored straw. The men wore straw hats of peculiar shapes and colors or, for variety, yachting caps. The man who had been watering crab grass had changed his hose for a power mower, which smoked furiously. A young man and a girl walked, hand in hand, up the slight slope to the swimming pool and, still hand in hand, dived in. A small boy with a tennis racket walked by, bound for a lesson.
"We've got a date at ten-thirty with that nice doctor and Rebecca somebody," Pam said. Jerry pushed aside a light film of sleep and said he hadn't forgotten. At a quarter after ten he said, no, he still hadn't forgotten, and went up to their room to change. As was inevitable, the maid was in the room. She accepted intrusion with tight-lipped politeness and went with the air of one who would try, but not desperately, to come back and finish up.
Pam was sitting under the awning at the tennis courts, beside a tall, spare man. As Jerry came up she said, "Called Teddy and Freddy for some reason. Here he is now."
The spare man turned in his chair and then stood up, and Jerry said, "Morning, doctor," to Dr. Edmund Piersal who said, "Good morning, Mr. North. Not so much wind today."
The day before, when they had first met at the courts, looked at each other appraisingly, in the manner of tennis players, and agreed to hit a few, it had been windy. High hedges of evergreens beyond the wire netting around the courts gave some shelter. It was still windy. And Dr. Piersal had been too good, but not too overwhelmingly too good. (6–3.) Piersal had said, "Off your game, I imagine," and Jerry had not too openly accepted this judgment, but had not entirely rejected it. "Haven't played since September," was his nonrejection. "Not that you wouldn't take me any time."
Which had been true yesterday, and probably would be today. Piersal was several inches over six feet, which is no disadvantage in tennis; he was lean and tanned. He was also, at Jerry's guess, in his early sixties. There was more gray than black in his thick hair; there were deep lines in his thin, firm face. ("A man of distinction, except he looks too bright for it," Pam had said, when they reviewed the previous day over cocktails.) Dr. Piersal also had a good backhand.
Jerry sat down; already the shade was pleasant. (Mr. Grogan, specialist in resort hotels, was also pretty good about the weather.)
"She ought to be along soon," Dr. Piersal said. He had a quiet voice. "No idea what sort of game she plays."
Pickup tennis at a resort hotel is hit or miss. The day before, Rebecca something — Jerry groped; Rebecca Payne — had merely sat and watched, although she had been dressed for tennis. She had watched through black eyes, set deeply in a thinnish face; she had watched, Jerry thought, wistfully. Such other women as came to the courts came paired. After some time of watching, she had tucked her racked under her arm and gone away, walking quickly and Well and as if she were going some place. (I'm afraid she isn't, really, Pam North had thought.)
Excerpted from Murder by the Book by Frances Lockridge, Richard Lockridge. Copyright © 1961 Frances and Richard Lockridge. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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