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About the Author
George Harmon Coxe (1901–1984) was an early star of hard-boiled crime fiction, best known for characters he created in the seminal pulp magazine Black Mask. Born in upstate New York, he attended Purdue and Cornell Universities before moving to the West Coast to work in newspapers. In 1922 he began publishing short stories in pulp magazines across various genres, including romance and sports. He would find his greatest success, however, writing crime fiction. In 1934 Coxe, relying on his background in journalism, created his most enduring character: Jack “Flashgun” Casey, a crime photographer. First appearing in “Return Engagement,” a Black Mask short, Casey found success on every platform, including radio, television, and film. Coxe’s other well-known characters include Kent Murdock, another photographer, and Jack Fenner, a PI. Always more interested in character development than a clever plot twist, Coxe was at home in novel-writing, producing sixty-three books in his lifetime. Made a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America in 1964, Coxe died in 1984.
Read an Excerpt
The Man Who Died Twice
By George Harmon Coxe
A MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1951 George Harmon Coxe
All rights reserved.
HE WAS lucky in his connection at St. Lucia, for the windswept airport was some distance from the town of Castries and the only building was bleak and un-painted, a bungalowlike shack that housed the customs and immigration officials as well as the airline clerks.
The old DC-3 of the British West Indies Airlines was ready to load when he came out of the office, and presently he was getting aboard and climbing the tilted floor until he found an aisle seat. He fastened his belt, finding the plane cramped and uncomfortable after the Convair that had brought him down from Puerto Rico by way of St. Thomas and Antigua. Its comparative slowness bothered him too as they thundered down the runway; even when they were airborne the climb was slow and when the pilot banked it seemed the plane was almost at stalling speed.
Finally he leaned back and unfastened his belt, unconsciously relaxing as he reached up to adjust the ventilator. He saw then that the plane had no more than three empty seats, the passengers well mixed as to age, color, and sex. Outside the windows there was nothing now but blue sky and bluer water, and presently he closed his eyes.
He had slept very little on the night flight from New York to San Juan, but this last leg of his journey was too short for him to give sleep a serious thought, so he half-dozed until his companion nudged him gently and pointed to the lighted sign over the cockpit door. Refastening his belt, he glanced out of the window and got his first glimpse of Barbados, shaped from his perspective like a lopsided pear with the thin end pointed north. Here the terrain seemed ridged and hilly, but for the most part the land was flat or gently rolling with long lines of surf boiling in on the sand and rocks along the Atlantic side as far as he could see. Because heads were crowding windows he had only a glimpse of the other coast, but that was enough to tell him the water was flat calm inshore, the beaches gentle and dotted with palms. Then they were banking again and losing altitude, and underneath the wings were sugar fields, many of them recently cut, and oxcarts being loaded, the natives glancing upward at their passing as they swooped down towards the end of the runway.
He was the next-to-last passenger off the plane and he stood for a moment on the concrete ramp, blinking against the reflected brilliance of the late-afternoon sun, feeling its warmth soak through his gabardine jacket as he sniffed the soft warm air. Then he strolled towards the long, low wooden building and through the door that was marked INCOMING; he stood apart from the milling group that had preceded him as he glanced about.
Somewhere in the crowded, low-ceilinged room a voice was calling: "Mr. MacQuade—Mr. MacQuade, please."
The name made no impression on him and now a native official in blue trousers and an immaculate white drill jacket with a wide, polished leather belt was beckoning to him from behind a high, counter-like desk, above which a sign read IMMIGRATION.
As he started towards it, reaching for his wallet and the tourist card the airline had filled out for him in New York, he heard again the patiently paging voice:
"Mr. MacQuade, please!"
This time the words penetrated. Like a latent and powerful recoil the name shattered his daydreaming and struck at his consciousness. He stopped still. He glanced round, hoping the feeling of shock and dismay which had engulfed him did not show. He was nearly to the counter, and now he saw the man who had called, a native policeman dressed like the other official but wearing a white pith helmet.
He put up his hand to attract attention, nodding when the policeman noticed and came forward. He swallowed and the perspiration that started to break out all over him came more from his nervousness and confusion than the heat. He composed his face. He talked angrily to himself and got his nerves in hand, remembering how he had sat on a bench in the San Juan terminal that morning while a loudspeaker called six times for Mr. MacQuade before he jumped up and reported to the ticket desk.
The tourist card he now placed on the counter gave the vital statistics.
James M. MacQuade, it said. Age 29, white, height 5-11, weight 170. Hair: brown. Eyes: blue. It said he had a return ticket and was an American citizen. Purpose of visit: Tourist.
The policeman was close now. He said: "Mr. MacQuade?" pleasantly, then turned to the man and girl who followed him. "This is Mr. MacQuade."
The officer stepped aside and MacQuade braced himself mentally, not knowing what came next but ready and alert for it at last.
"Hello, Jim. Welcome to Barbados." The man thrust out his hand. "I'm Len Osborne. Leonard for short. And this"—he stepped back to grin at the girl— "is your cousin, Alma Simmons."
MacQuade did pretty well, everything considered. He had a quick impression of a handsome, bronzed man of thirty or so, with dark hair and eyes, a quick easy smile above a solid-looking jaw, a rugged handclasp. Then he was looking at the girl and taking the firm brown hand she offered.
In the time left he got the impression of a dark-haired girl with a pleasant face and bright friendly eyes. On the small side, she was neatly fashioned, with a tawny skin and a simple white dress that contrasted nicely with her brown bare arms and legs. He was aware of this much when, suddenly, she leaned forward and kissed him lightly.
"Hello, Jim," she said.
Osborne laughed. He said that was Alma's cousinly kiss; then he had Jim by the arm, guiding him towards the customs counter at the end of the building.
The dark-skinned customs man found the proper declaration. "Just these two?" He indicated the two bags, chalk-marked them without bothering to open them, glanced at the currency declaration. "You have no English money with you?"
"None." Jim accepted part of the form and was told he would have to fill it out and turn it in when he left the island.
"And where will you be staying while you're here, Mr. MacQuade?"
"With us," Osborne said. "At Highpoint."
The official signaled to a porter and presently the luggage was stowed in the back of a black Morris with a sliding roof. The three of them got into the front seat and Osborne angled the car out of the parking area. After that Jim answered the questions that were put to him, aware of the girl's sidelong glances of inspection and conscious of the light pressure of her body beside him. She asked what he thought of their weather and he said he thought it was wonderful, that March in New York was never a good month and that it had been raw and windy when he left. Osborne said he knew how it was.
"You know I was at Princeton," he added. "You were at Cornell, weren't you?"
Jim nodded, wondering if he should mention the thought he had in mind, and deciding to try it.
"I wish you had looked me up."
Osborne gave him a quick slanting glance. "That was quite a while ago. I got out in '43 and went into the army—O.S.S. really. I guess you weren't in school when I was."
"I went back to finish up in '46."
"Johnny wanted me to come back here," Osborne said, some new inflection in his voice. "I've been here ever since."
Jim nodded; then, a moment later, he realized there was a question he should have asked before.
"How is Uncle John?"
"Well—" The girl hesitated, turning one hand.
"He's up," said Osborne. "Drags one foot a bit and his right side and arm aren't what they should be."
"He shouldn't be up at all," Alma said, "but not even the doctor can stop him."
"It's a miracle he's alive," Osborne said. "He had the first stroke two years ago—he wrote you about that—and made a full recovery. Then this last one—"
"They found him unconscious late one afternoon," Alma said. "The twenty-seventh of February."
"They did a spinal tap when they found he was still alive, just to be sure it was a cerebral hemorrhage. They never expected him to regain consciousness."
When there was no further amplification Jim gave his attention to the countryside, which was nearly flat here, all of it under cultivation and crisscrossed with narrow, hard-surfaced roads. He had lost sight of the sea off to the left somewhere, and up ahead, standing stiffly against the horizon on the right, was the stone tower of an abandoned windmill. There was more traffic now as they clung to the left-hand side of the road, small sedans, bicycles, barefooted pedestrians, a crowded bus, open at the sides. He still could see no sign of Bridgetown and presently he asked about it.
Osborne laughed and said they could make better time by going around it. "Highpoint is a few miles the other side, but it's easier sticking to the country roads. We're almost there," he said and pointed to the slope on the left, beyond which the sea was again visible. A half mile farther on the car slowed, then turned left into a paved drive flanked by rows of feathery casuarina trees and ending in a paved court beyond which stood the main house.
Highpoint was a slight misnomer. True, there was a small knoll that gave the house about the same level as the highway, but the contour of the land here had a northward slope from the water's edge, and back beyond the highway the slope continued up through the plantation proper until it merged with the level ground beyond. The stack of a sugar mill was visible here, the top of a crane. Closer to the road was another stone tower, the hallmark of a now useless windmill that indicated the site of an earlier sugar plant, long since leveled.
The house itself was a sturdy-looking, two-story structure built of coral stone, weathered gray now, with the roof itself invisible because of the stone parapet that rose above it. A wide stone walk only inches above the asphalt paving ran along this, the weather side of the house, and was covered by a roof to give protection to the three doors and the many ground-floor windows, while the windows on the second story had Demerara shutters. A three-car garage stood at one side of the court and contiguous with this was a high hedge that screened the one-story servants' buildings and stables.
Osborne whipped the Morris up to the wide center door and gave a blast on the horn. Almost at once two servant girls in white aprons and caps came out and removed the luggage. Jim hesitated as he stepped out but Osborne and Alma Simmons paid no attention to the struggle, indicating that in Barbados it was the female help who did this sort of thing.
"Could you use a quick dip before we have a drink?" Osborne asked. "What about you, Alma?"
Jim said he'd like it very much and the girl said: "Yes, but Johnny will want to say hello to Jim first."
"Sure," Osborne said. "Sure. This way," he said, and steered Jim through the doorway into a long, low room that seemed cool and dark and comfortable.
"Johnny!" Alma skipped past, a lilting vibrance in her voice. "Here he is," she said, and then she was extending her hand to the man who sat in the canvas chair near the front windows.
Jim stepped forward and now all the tension he had felt at the airport came back. The others who lived in this house he was not expected to know, nor they him. The important one was this slim, stooped man whose right leg dragged as he took a step and who had not seen his brother's son in sixteen years.
Now Jim put out his hand and heard himself say: "Hello, Uncle John."
"Jim." The answering voice came thickly, an emotional tremor in its cadence. "Jim."
For a moment that was all John MacQuade could say. His right arm moved as if by habit, but he could not quite manage; his left hand seized his nephew's, pressing it hard and drawing him forward. Then he flung the arm about Jim's shoulder and clung that way a moment before he stepped back.
"Come outside, boy," he said, the tremor gone. "Let's have a look at you. Damn, I'm glad you're here."
Jim let himself be drawn out on the covered veranda overlooking the sloping lawn and the sea. He stood helplessly as the older man inspected him, feeling embarrassed, uncertain, and a little ashamed. For in his mind he had fashioned a picture of the man he had come to see, and it was nothing like this. Here, close-up and with the light good, it came to him with something of a shock that this man was thinner, older-looking, spent. Instead of the brown, weathered face he had expected he saw gray, slack-skinned features that could no more than hint at the earlier robustness and vigor. The nose was more prominent, the jaw more bony; there was no noticeable sign here of the partial paralysis that had affected his right side, yet only the dark eyes were alive and challenging.
"You grew to pretty fair size," MacQuade said, a note of pride in his voice. "You still got that brown hair and plenty of it. I wouldn't have known you though, Jim. Sixteen years is a long time."
He nodded and glanced at Alma, and Jim saw that she had been watching the meeting with approval, her smile radiant as she watched John MacQuade, a misty softness in her eyes. Osborne was watching too, his gaze intent but unsmiling, his good-looking face revealing nothing.
"We thought we'd take a dip, Johnny," he said.
"Sure," MacQuade said, still watching Jim. "I'll bet you could use one. Been flying all night, I guess."
"Since twelve thirty."
"Go to it." MacQuade slapped his arm. "But make it a quick one, hunh? I'll be needing a libation of some sort shortly.... Oh, hello, Kate. Here's Jim at last."
Alma said: "Hello, Aunt Kate."
Jim hesitated. Aunt Kate, he thought. I never heard of any Aunt Kate.
He turned slowly and five feet away a woman stood in the doorway. Dressed in a white blouse, jodhpurs, a pith helmet in her hand, she was perhaps fifty-five, still slender and straight-standing, a handsome woman with white hair, waved and worn short, and deep gray eyes that were direct, intelligent, and, it seemed to him, analytical.
"Jim—this is Kate Royce." MacQuade chuckled. "It'll pay you to play up to her. She sort of bosses things around here."
The woman offered her hand and a faint smile that was neither approving or disapproving. Her glance remained steady and Jim had the uncomfortable feeling that she was assessing not only each detail of his appearance but something of his thoughts. She said she was very glad he had found his way back to Barbados.CHAPTER 2
LEONARD OSBORNE was already waiting on the front veranda when Jim appeared a few minutes later. Clad in varicolored shorts with a towel draped round his neck, he had a well-proportioned figure with only an incipient bulge of flesh at the waist. His tan was even except for the white strip where he wore his wrist watch, and his legs were well-muscled and hairy. He pointed seaward over the rim of trees guarding the beach where a half dozen stubby-looking sailboats were silhouetted against the low-hanging sun.
"Some of the fishing fleet," he said. "They come in every afternoon about this time."
"They look rugged." Jim studied the oversized jibs and the oddly rigged mainsail. "They'd have to be to carry that amount of canvas."
"They are rugged. Most of the hull's below water. Flying fish, mostly," he said. "Ever eat them?"
"You will tonight," Alma said, coming up behind them to hook her arms with theirs. "Let's go."
As they went down the steps and across the grassy slope Jim saw a smallish, new-looking bungalow, connected to the far end of the main house by what, in the States, would have been called a long breezeway. He had not noticed it before and he mentioned it now.
"Oh, that's Kate's," Alma said. "Johnny built it for her two years ago. Before that she lived in the house with us."
Her tone suggested that all this was readily understandable, and Jim decided not to pursue his growing interest in the woman; instead he asked about another bungalow whose roof was visible through the trees on the left and perhaps two hundred yards away.
"That's the Dunhams," Osborne said. "You know, Johnny's stepson."
They were at the edge of the stand of trees protecting the beach now, and there was a path here which they followed single file until they reached a curving strip of gray-white sand that was almost powdery in its consistency. Perhaps a quarter of a mile to the left a wooden jetty extended out into the water, and an equal distance to the right the beach curved out to a low, rocky point and was no more. What held Jim's attention was the woman sitting on the sand about fifty yards away.
She rose when she saw them, and waved. Alma and Osborne waved back and Osborne called: "Hi," and then, over his shoulder as he moved off: "Join you in a minute."
Jim saw that the woman was young and blond, with short-cropped hair and a scanty two-piece suit that did nice things to her well-rounded figure.
"Hmm," he said, still looking, "not bad."
"Indeed not," said Alma. "That's Barbara Connant. She has a house down the beach. You can see it if you swim out."
"Mrs. She's divorced."
"And rather a special friend of Leonard's. You'll meet her after dinner unless you'd rather not wait."
Excerpted from The Man Who Died Twice by George Harmon Coxe. Copyright © 1951 George Harmon Coxe. Excerpted by permission of A MysteriousPress.com.
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