Chapter Fifteen

Sgt. John Armstrong was a very tenacious man. That was written in the way he walked, in the set of his jaw. It was a part of his personality that the twenty years he had spent in the military had nurtured. Since he had come to the C.I.D. he had, like the Canadian Mountie, always got his man. And this one was going to be no exception. Not if Sgt. John Armstrong of the United States Army could help it.

The major had been only too glad, at the end of a terrible afternoon, to be rid of him. In fact, he didn’t like to think of how glad the officer had been to say good-bye. He hadn’t even quibbled about letting him use the military police sedan as they left the police station. How could the major have failed to fathom the vast importance of securing the U.S. Army against the plots that these spies were right now perpetrating?

But he was not going to give up. It wouldn’t do for a man who saw his duty to shirk. No, he would stand, alone if need be, against the enemy horde from outer space. And one day, when the war was over and its history was written, it could just be that his name would figure large in the accounts of those great days. He would have struck the first, perhaps the deciding, blows. He would have been able to see what was happening long before anyone else did; his ability to grasp situations would be unquestioned. Perhaps he would be cast in bronze, and be set with statues of other American patriots who had given their lives, their loyalties, their intelligence in the service of their country.

He, Sgt. John Armstrong, would do this, by himself. And, to begin with, he was going to follow the two spies to their lair. Beard the alien in his den, so to speak. His aggressively clean, stubby fingers flexed on the steering wheel. He would do what he could. That he vowed.

He followed the lawyer’s car with professional ease. The Padeyevsky estate was quite easy to infiltrate. Although there was open country in back of the mansion, the acreage on each side of the house was dense, uncut forest land. There was a front lawn, but it was modest, and both sides of the house were very close to the heavy woods. He had no trouble getting next to one of the side windows of the front parlor, where the front of the house went back for half a room before spreading out into the additional width of the screened-in porch.

Armstrong heard Padeyevsky’s telephone conversation with Josh at the airport. Josh and Theodore were apparently headed for Fort Lauderdale.

Now there was a decision to make. His future as a patriot depended upon this! Should he watch the man from space, who was at present not twenty feet from him, on the porch, or should he go off after Joshua and Theodore, and find the space girl with them?

It was a hard decision. A bird in the hand seemed worth two in the bush. And yet, the major had had the man from space, but the importance hadn’t seemed to register. Perhaps he could get more evidence by following Joshua. There wasn’t any more evidence here.

And how could he get to Florida before Joshua did? Joshua was already in the air. The Sergeant spent some minutes in thought and decided that, in addition to laying his life on the line for his country, he was going to have to lay his finances at its disposal as well. It was a hard blow. But he could see no way out. And perhaps, if he kept careful accounts of all that he had spent in its service, his country would see fit to reimburse him after the holocaust had been averted.

He was going to have to call a detective agency, the same as Joshua had. Because he had to have them followed, until he could get there and take over himself.

His decision made, he moved his broad, strong back away from the wall, pulled his shoulders back rather painfully, and was up on stiff legs. The car took him to another of those public telephones; grimacing slightly with distaste he picked up the receiver of this one, deposited the coin that was doubtless at least as filthy as the receiver was, and called Miami Information to ask for the name of the first detective agency in the book. He didn’t care. Any one would do.

He was soon speaking to the Acme Detective Agency. When they discovered that they were talking to a man connected with the Army C.I.D., they were most anxious to accept his business. “We’re a little understaffed, right now,” said the man in Miami. “But we’ll make a special effort in your case, Sgt. Armstrong.”

They were commissioned to put a tail on two men who fitted the descriptions of Joshua and Theodore, who would be arriving in Fort Lauderdale in a chartered jet. “Yes, Sgt. Armstrong,” said the man. “We’ll certainly do that. And how shall we report back to you.

“I’ll call back later and let you know.”

“Yes, Sgt. Armstrong. That’ll be fine.” The detective hung up feeling rather lightheaded. Two good jobs in one day. The agency was sizeable, but a day when one guy said, “spare no expense,” and another had the financial resources of the United States behind him was still a great day.

The only difficulty was that he had men staked out at every airport around here already; he’d already had to call in every part-time agent he had on the books. He called around, and could find no one else to put on the case. There was only one thing to do: double up the assignments. Put the same men on both cases, and when one broke, then he could reshuffle his agents to fill in. He had a contact in Miami Air Traffic Control Center that should help in the chartered jet case. He’d lost one man just this afternoon, in one of those freak accidents. Damn rich snobs, too busy spending their money to watch out for a pedestrian. It was terrible. This was a rich man’s city, all right. The chauffeur probably wouldn’t even go to jail.

But that, which was neither here nor there as far as the business went, had lost him a very good operative. One that he’d had to replace, since this Mr. Padeyevsky had said that the subject he wanted found would most likely be coming into Miami International. He sighed, and pulled his phone over to him. He was out of ulcer medicine, too. Well.

He called the number reported in by Ernesto Lopez, the part-time operative who had been covering the Ft. Lauderdale Airport for Padeyevsky. Lopez was a good man, although too fat and too old to be of full-time caliber. He was also too fat and too old to be hired as a policeman. Which was a shame. Because in his native country Lopez had been a policeman, and a good one, for Battista, until. Castro’s government had finally made him feel it would be better for him and his family to leave. And he had left with all possible haste,. in fear for his wife and his children. In fear that his children would grow up in a country they could no longer love. And in fear for his wife, if she were left a widow. He had decided that Miami was a better port of entry than New York City. The trip was cheaper; the ghettos were not as bad.

But it had been bad enough here. He was not trained for any but police work. When he couldn’t get that, there were two possible roads left open to him. He could become a criminal, which he was well suited to do, having studied criminal techniques for many years, and being possessed of a quick, shrewd mind. Or he could search for other honest work.

Ernesto Lopez was an innately good man. He did not become a criminal. To feed his wife and children, whom he loved deeply, he discovered it would be necessary to work as a dishwasher in a restaurant, or as a pumper of gasoline for cars. He liked the outdoors. He pumped gasoline. No one else would hire him, a short, powerfully muscled man whose body looked weak and ungainly in its heaviness of girth. His face was always oily; he looked as though he never washed; his beard was heavy; his hair was black and straight. He looked all too much like what he was, an immigrant. There were so many immigrants in Miami. All looking like him, all wanting jobs, and mostly younger and cleaner looking.

He supposed he had been lucky to find work at all. And it was not too bad, pumping the gas in the pleasant neighborhood in Ft. Lauderdale. Even though it paid very little, so that he had difficulty giving his family what they needed. They had to live far away, in north Miami, and he had trouble even coaxing his ancient car to make the trips to and from his employment. It was difficult. And he had been glad to discover part-time employment with the Acme Detective Agency. For they paid much more, by the hour, than did the gasoline station. And he could do the work. It challenged him a little, more than the gasoline pumping did. But more, it soothed him. He was used to doing this kind of work. He could feel, evanescently, that he belonged to his new country when he was on these assignments.

But perhaps, more than anything, he was simply happy to be earning money for his family. And he had grabbed this assignment eagerly and without thought, even though he had already worked a shift and a half at the gasoline pumping, and his hands were dark with grease still, and smelling of the gasoline. He had gone to the Ft. Lauderdale Airport, had placed himself in a strategic location so that he could see all of the active runways, and had placed an out-of-order sign on the nearby pay phone, after calling its number in to the detective agency.

He nearly went over backwards in his tilted chair when the telephone in the booth rang. His bulk moved quickly to the telephone; he had picked up the receiver by the end of the second ring. “Lopez,” he said into it.

“Lopez,” said the agency man, “You’ve got another case now, as well as the blonde girl. You are also watching for two men in a chartered jet.” He gave Lopez Joshua Starr’s and Theodore Behr’s descriptions. “If you spot the girl, just call in and report. The client didn’t ask us to follow her. But if you spot the two men, follow them if you can, as long as they are in the area. If you can’t, call in and report the direction they were last seen going, and then get back and watch for the girl again. Got that?”

“Yes, si, amigo,” said Lopez. “I will watch for them all three. And I will call you if I find anything to report.”

He hung up, went back to his chair, and began thinking. How could he get from here to his car fast enough to follow the two men if they did come in here? The field was huge; maybe five miles of road stood between the most widely separated of the hangars. Which one would they go to? He couldn’t possibly get to some of them in time to catch the two men, if he had to watch them land and taxi to their destination first. And yet he couldn’t leave here to try to find out from the tower, unless he knew when they were coming in. And, too, he mustn’t neglect his watch for the beautiful blonde. Although that, most unfortunately for him, was surely a hopeless task. To find one beautiful blonde girl at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport. As though they had said, Lopez, we want the sweet stalk in this field of sugar cane.

The telephone in the booth rang again; again Lopez moved his ponderous bulk to it. The call solved his difficulties, and set his heart racing. How much money might he make this night! The man at the agency had told him. “Listen, Lopez. Miami Center has just received a hand-off from Jacksonville on a chartered jet. It’s supposed to land in Ft. Lauderdale a few minutes from now. Sounds like what we’re looking for. Be on your toes, and if they fit the descriptions, try to tail them. Forget about the blonde girl. I’m sending a man out now to cover that. Got it?”

“Yes, si, I have it. And I will keep up with them. And report back later, yes?”

“Right. Just keep them in sight, Lopez. Now, the number on the airplane is four seven two eight alpha. Got that? That’s what you’re looking for.”

“OK,” said Lopez, anxious to hang up and get ready. “Thank you. Goodbye, amigo.”

He hung up. The first thing would be to go to the Control Tower. He had to find out what flight service they were going to. He had some experience in this sort of investigation. He had been a policeman for a long time, in Cuba.

He sat for a minute, and formulated his plan, rehearsed his speech. Then he ran up the steps to the Control Tower. This time of the evening, there was very little air traffic, and the Federal Aviation Agency employees welcomed any visitors. He launched immediately into his speech, the company chauffeur speech. He was hoping that they’d heard many variants of it, over the years, and it looked as though they had, for they nodded as he told them that his employers were coming in on a chartered jet, four seven two eight alpha, and that they had been here before, but had been dissatisfied with the service they’d gotten at the hangar they’d used then, and were going to change to another one. They’d told him which one, explained Lopez, looking very Latin, very unhappy, but he couldn’t remember which one. They were due in at any moment. Could he just stay here until they landed, and find out where they were going to go?”

“Sure, Mr. Lopez,” said one of the men. “They’ll radio us where they wish to taxi as soon as they land. Just have a seat. You say they’ll be in soon?”

Lopez nodded, thanked the man profusely, and sat down to wait. When the airplane was on the ground, and had switched to ground control and advised the tower of its destination, Lopez moved towards the door and said, “Thank you so much.”

And so he was in his moving car, and close enough to identify Joshua’s shaggy mop of hair as he and Theodore spat gravel away from their rear wheels and took the bumpy side road away from the south end of the field, He was able, barely able, to keep behind them as they drove recklessly, in irresponsible abandon, towards the ocean. Lopez kept a wary eye on the needle which quivered at the right end of his temperature gauge; he watched droplets of brownish water spray back onto his windshield as the radiator cap strained against its fitting. It had been clear that these two were bent upon their own destruction. But the speed also made it clear that these were his prey. And he was not going to lose them. This was the job he could do; the pumping of gasoline was no job! He felt no exhilaration at the chase; the emotion that swept through him was utter fear, that he should be going this quickly, in a vehicle which had previously been nursed just to move at all. It was making noises, and moaning in its bones with every jolt of the suspension; the bald tires were beyond trusting. But he would not lose them. There could be a full night’s employment here, perhaps more than that. Perhaps the agency would keep him on this case, since he had so successfully begun it. And if he showed the agency what he could do, might they not use him more? He bent over the steering wheel and clung grimly to the road in front of him, slowing when they did, and finally parking his ancient automobile under overhanging palm branches when they did. He began to make his way after them in the moonlight.

Joshua had become aware that they were being followed before they were off the airport road, but he had been completely unable to figure out who had sent the tail. The obvious person to follow them was Trostrick, or Trostrick’s agent, but there seemed little possibility that anyone connected with Trostrick would drive the dying pile of junk that was behind them. It amazed him that the vehicle had been able to keep up with their new rental car. As he neared the Trostrick estate, he dismissed the man from his mind altogether. The only important thing at this point was to move in as quickly as possible, and try to retrieve the girl from space before she was an imprisoned spirit. For once Trostrick had succeeded in completely subjugating her mental body, there was no hope of saving her. No hope at all, as far as Joshua knew.

Because of the urgency of Joshua’s mission, he had not taken the time to prepare protections against the various spiritual dangers that might be waiting for anyone who crossed Trostrick’s property line. The black magician could have done many things, all of them most detrimental to trespassers’ continued health and well-being. But there was no time to lessen the risks. He turned to Theodore.

“Listen, Ted. This is the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done. Or you’ve ever done. I don’t know what’s waiting for us, and I don’t have the time to find out. But the best chance of coming through this is for you to take my hand and don’t let go, whatever you do. I don’t expect any physical danger; the danger we face is much greater than physical death. Do you understand me?”

Theodore had watched Joshua closely ever since he had met him. He had seen that Josh was never completely serious; that he used the language lightly, never trying to say too much with it.

And this last sentence or two of Joshua’s was different. It was not lightly said. If Joshua said there was danger here, there was indeed. Theodore took the magician’s hand, and felt the beginning of strong apprehension move across his back, and down his spine. “I won’t let go for anything,” said Theodore. “But what do you expect will happen?”

“I don’t know.” Joshua’s face was baffled. “It would take me quite some time to shield us from all the things that Trostrick might have done. There are so many magical techniques for people like him to make use of. I do expect something, because there are no fences around his property, which would lead one to look for protection of his place by non-physical means. I am just hoping that whatever he has set up, I can counter by what I know. I want you to hold on to me for two reasons; first, your light will help me. And second, I can protect you only if I have contact with you. Now, don’t let go.”

The two men wriggled out of the rented car, clasped hands, and began to run in step across the palm-studded lawn towards Trostrick’s side yard. Lopez, getting out of his car to follow, shook his head. He had seen a lot of things in his day, but two young men holding hands in the moonlight-that was a new one! He followed them to the side yard, and watched them run in step across the long, curving driveway, and onto a stone patio. He saw them disappear inside a wide glass door, the slightly taller of the two men pushing the door open without letting go of the other man’s hand. Now what should he do? He decided to wait here for a few minutes, and go inside only if they did not come out again.

Ted and Josh had made very little noise as they moved lightly and carefully across the patio and into the house itself. Joshua had his spirit braced for any assault, and was astonished as he stepped inside the door to discover that not one trace of threat had been placed in their way. It seemed arrogance to Joshua, that a man with so much at his command would not bother to use any of it for his protection. But it was a relief, and a help to them now. Joshua realized that since he was in the house, and could still sense no assaults upon his mental or physical senses, he could go to work unhindered.

He stopped in the darkened living room, looking about him. There were no lights showing. There had been one small lamp shining out a window above the garage; Joshua had decided that must be where the chauffeur slept. It was a small light, and the window was small and opaque; Josh had deduced, correctly, that it was a bathroom light, and that the chauffeur was probably in bed for the night.

Josh waited until he had become aware of a tiny sliver of light down the hall that led off the living room. The source of the radiation was at the very end of the long passageway, and he and Theodore walked down the hall to it, pulled aside the red curtains that covered the doorway, and discovered the same scene that had greeted the girl from space. The unclothed body of Trostrick lay on the black table; the thick tapers flickered lower in their scones.

And Theodore’s apprehension grew to cutting awareness of the danger of which Joshua had spoken. For the room was alive with evil; it could be felt, palpable on the skin. The baseness which he sensed made him feel a degradation of the spirit which went far beyond the intellectual awareness of degradation, and the chill of the room’s aura pulled at Theodore’s very soul, and made him press his hand even more tightly into Joshua’s, putting all his faith in the man of light.

Joshua had been standing next to the body for some few seconds, his eyes closed in concentration. He opened them now, and whispered to Theodore. “We’re in real luck. He’s not with his body. I think we can handle things now. Once we gain control of Trostrick’s physical body, we should be able to get the girl from space away from him. After all, a black magician would be seriously handicapped without a physical body, far more so than a white magus.”

Joshua turned towards the velvet curtain, checking to be sure that they were still safely alone, and saw two green eyes about six inches past his shoulder, and about six inches higher. He barely had time to take in the rest of the manservant’s huge proportions before the heavy fist had crunched into his face, tearing him off his feet and away from the altar.

Theodore had closed his hand upon Joshua’s in the spasmodic grip of a frightened man, and he was carried with Josh, but he did not fall, until the enormous fist found the whole side of Theodore’s face. The welded grip was broken, and through shock-clouded eyes, Joshua saw Theodore sprawl and lie quite still. He struggled against the demands of his pain to get up, and had pulled himself as far as his knees when the leather-covered iron of the man’s heavy boot caught him solidly in the right side of the chest and tossed him, still conscious, into a now immobile heap.

The huge man’s green eyes turned to the velvet door, and he moved with slow grace, reaching behind its outer folds bringing out a curved sword. The scimitar was easily recognizable to Joshua, even as he lay paralyzed with loss of breath. It was of ceremonial value in certain magical rituals. With every ounce of his will, Joshua tried to rise to ward off this attack, but he found himself totally helpless. He prepared his spirit for physical death, and watched the great blade rise into the air above the huge manservant’s head, and poise for the downward blow.

And then, without warning, going inexplicably out of character, the large man pitched uncontrollably forward. The scimitar missed Joshua and clanged loudly but harmlessly against the floor. Behind the manservant stood the still, tensed figure of Ernesto Lopez, who had come into the house, entering as he had seen the two ahead of him do, who had seen the enormous man go through the velvet curtain, and who had watched what happened thereafter until he could no longer remain neutral. For he was a good man, and it was quite impossible for him to stand by and allow a murder to be accomplished.

The huge man apparently decided that three opponents, including one strong enough to send him to his knees with a single well-placed blow, were too many to handle comfortably. He picked up Joshua and Theodore and threw them clumsily through the curtain, strong-arming Lopez after them. They heard the sound of a heavy door swinging on its hinges, and there was a concussive thud as it was closed behind the curtain. It would appear that their assailant had locked himself and his master in the ceremonial chamber.

Lopez frisked the unconscious Theodore, and bent over Joshua to do the same. “I would not attack me, if I were you,” he said, “for I have much skill in fighting, and I am armed with a knife.”

“No, man,” spoke Josh haltingly, painfully. “We’re not going to bug you. Go ahead. Search me.” The swarthy Lopez did so. “We just want to thank you for saving our lives.”

Lopez’s broad face broke into a smile. “It was no trouble.”

“Is there a locked door there now?” asked Joshua, inclining his sore neck and head towards the chamber.

Lopez got up, satisfied that neither Theodore nor Joshua had any weapons, and put his shoulder to the curtain. Wood behind it creaked slightly. “A sturdy door, with a sturdy lock,” said the Cuban.

There was a sudden vibration in the floor upon which Joshua sat, fighting for breath. The vibration grew greater, and they could hear the muffled, close sound of a power boat almost directly under them.

“Go outside and see what that is,” said Joshua. “Please, man. I just can’t make it yet.”

Lopez looked quickly from Josh to Theodore. He could hardly see how the man could be lying. And the other man was obviously still unconscious. He nodded, and ran back through the living room, and out across the patio, just in time to see a boat with an enormous hulk of a man at the wheel go out of sight around the curve of the shoreline. He turned, his eye caught by a motionless form on the beach. He moved closer to it. It was a girl’s body, stiff on the sand. She was obviously dead. Well, he could come back to look at her in a minute. She would keep. Right now the important thing was to discover where the boat had come from.

He ran on the beach towards the far side of the house, and found the neat parking place for the boat, right under the house, the water lapping on its foundations. There were steps to a walkway under the house from the patio; he ran down them and on to a little pier. Here was a door into the interior of the house. It was unlocked. Lopez went through it and ascended steep stairs into the magical chamber from which they had just been evicted. There was no longer a body on the black marble table. The servant must have the body with him in that boat.

This was most puzzling, most peculiar. Lopez walked through the chamber, ignoring a slight feeling of unease, and unlocked the bolted door. It swung back and he secured it beneath the velvet curtain, and again confronted Joshua and Theodore.

The unconscious one had regained his senses. His eyes were open, and one hand was touching his bruised face. The other man was in the same position in which he had been left; his hands were also exploring his hurts, feeling his ribs, very gingerly, for breakage. These two hadn’t put up much resistance to the big man, that was sure. Maybe they shouldn’t have been so eager to hold hands. They might have been able to use them for fighting if they had been free. Lopez shook his head again.

What was he going to do with them? They were a meal ticket now; he had been given orders to spot and follow them, and he couldn’t have carried his orders out more thoroughly. They were here now, right under his thumb. Perhaps he could enhance this good fortune by discovering some information in excess of his assignment. There was such an air of strangeness to this whole case, this sequence of events, that he didn’t know whether he should assume that these men were honest or criminal, sane or insane. That room, so full of an unnamable dark force, was like the movies of horror he had so enjoyed when he was a child. He did not enjoy them in real life. The hand holding. That too was extraordinary. The body on the table, the one on the beach. Extraordinary, and very evil.

He decided that the best policy in this case would be straightforward honesty. He could perhaps find out something while these men were still in shock from their recent beating. If he could just intimidate them a little. He addressed Starr, the older of the two men.

“My name is Ernesto Lopez. I am a private detective from the Acme Detective Agency.”

Joshua looked distinctly puzzled, an unusual reaction.

“I will shortly be calling my agency, and the police in the city. But first, if you have anything to tell me, I would be happy to hear of it.”

“Joshua Starr,” said Josh, “and this is Theodore Behr. I’m the one that hired you, man.”

Lopez’s eyes lost their focus as he tried to unravel that statement. Why would Joshua Starr employ him to find Joshua Starr?

“I am sorry, Mr. Starr, but I was hired to find you. You could not have hired me.”

“I hired the Acme Agency in Miami to find a blonde girl that was coming into the area by plane. Weren’t you looking for her?” Lopez nodded. “I was looking for her, and also for you. Her I did not find. You, I did.”

Starr was still checking. “She was tall, and blonde, and very beautiful …”

Lopez made a halting motion with both hands. “Yes, yes, I was watching for her. But I did not see her.”

Well, thought Starr, another little mystery. Who could have known that he and Behr were coming here? It didn’t seem to matter, any more than the fact that Lopez was following them had seemed to matter. Things all paled before the main point: to find the girl from space.

He withdrew into his painful body for a moment, and looked carefully at the aura of the private detective. It seemed quite light, and free from the heavy, baser matter of the lower mental planes. Joshua decided that it might be a good risk to be honest with the man, despite the fact that he had been telling their predicament to too many people. “It doesn’t matter about who hired you,” he said. “This is a matter of life and death that Mr. Behr and I are concerned with. The blond girl that you were assigned to spot was kidnapped, and we suspect the man who owns this house of being the kidnapper. That’s why we came here. He’s the one lying in that room, on the table.” Joshua turned with painful slowness to look into the chamber, and saw for the first time that Trostrick’s body was gone.

“I saw the big man drive away in a motorboat,” said Lopez in explanation. “I think perhaps he has taken the man of whom you speak with him, for there was no one in the chamber when I came through it, and there are steps directly down from the room to the place where the boat is kept.” His mind went over his run down to the boat, and suddenly he thought more carefully of the body he had briefly but professionally examined on the beach. A tall, blonde body. She had had a blindfold on her eyes, and she had been tied. Was this not the obvious victim of a kidnapping?

Lopez looked keenly at Starr. He would not have the man going down on the beach and destroying evidence, trampling around in the surrounding sand, perhaps even moving the body. This was a matter for the police. But the man should be told that his search had ended. He spoke slowly, watching Starr carefully. “There is a body that fits the description you have given very well, out on the beach. No, no, she is dead,” he said louder, as Starr attempted to rise to his feet, gasping audibly with the pain that knifed through his body at the movement.

“I’ve got to look at her,” said Starr.

“No, there is no need,” said the Cuban. “She is dead. I am sure of that. I have seen many dead. We shall call the police.”

He moved slowly down the hall, looking for the telephone, and wondering if Starr had anything more to tell him.

“Wait,” said Starr, finally managing to stand on both feet and balance. “There is no hurry to do that, is there? Let me tell you something first.”

Lopez smiled a little. His plan of intimidation seemed to be working; perhaps he would be able to get quite a lot of information this way. “Let us go into the living room,” he said, “and there you can sit more comfortably. And also this one, he can rest there better than here.”

He helped Theodore to his feet. The boy had come dazedly awake now, still barely in reality. “You warned me of danger,” he said to Joshua as he stumbled, held by Lopez’s arms, “but you said it wasn’t going to be physical.”

“Man,” said Joshua, “I never dreamed that an Ipsissimus, with the whole lower astral plane at his fingertips, would ignore the whole thing and hire a goon. I’m sorry. I would have expected anything before getting mauled by King Kong!”

Lopez deposited Theodore on a sofa, and sat down in a chair next to Joshua. “And what was it that you wished to tell me?” he asked.

Joshua looked very deeply into Lopez’s dark, soft eyes. “I have strong reason to believe that the girl on the beach is not dead, but merely deeply asleep,” he said.

“She was dead,” said Lopez, noticing the steadiness of Starr’s gaze, finding it unexpectedly pleasant.

“No, she was merely given a very strong drug to make her sleep. This is a new drug, an experimental drug, and it produces drowsiness. It is a drug that brings on sleep. It is a drug that suggests sleep. It produces such a deep sleep that it approaches very closely the condition of death, but it is only sleep, a very comfortable, deep sleep. A very, very deep sleep.” Starr’s voice became slower as he gazed intently into the Cuban’s eyes, and continued to talk about sleep. He discussed deep sleep for a full five minutes, until Lopez was in a deep trance, and then suggested to the detective that he lie down on the sofa. He suggested that he would sleep there until morning. Lopez lay down on the couch obediently. He was fully relaxed.

Joshua grinned at Theodore, who grinned back, uncertainly, through the damage. They both looked considerably the worse for wear. Joshua made the sign of victory with his thumb and forefinger, and then waggled the fingers at Theodore. They quietly walked out the patio door, and towards the still figure which lay so stiffly upon the gentle, yielding sand.

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