Read Cargo of Coffins Online

Authors: L. Ron Hubbard

Tags: #Education & Reference, #Words; Language & Grammar, #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Sea Adventures, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Hard-Boiled, #Thrillers, #Men's Adventure, #Thriller, #sea adventure

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BOOK: Cargo of Coffins
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Lars smiled and faced away from it, looking again at the limitless horizons.

He heard footsteps behind him on the iron ladder. The sound broke into his thoughts and annoyed him. But he did not turn, hoping whoever it was would not come into the windswept
wing
. Lars did not want company.

The footsteps were light and carefree and suddenly all irritation dropped away and became a kind of electric thrill. He did not have to use his eyes to confirm the fact that this was Teresa Norton. During the past two weeks he had more than once experienced this feeling of unexplainable elation which came over him and blanked out everything sordid whenever he was with her.

When he knew she was within an arm’s length of him he pivoted and saluted her. “We’re off to a fair breeze, Miss Norton.”

She smiled at him and placed her back against the rail. Her yellow hair was blowing about her face and her eyes were as quick and pleasant and changing as the South Atlantic.

“How do you like the
Valiant
?” she said.

“She’s a thoroughbred, Miss Norton.”

“Of course you’re used to bigger ships.”

He wished she had not said that. It reminded him of this enforced masquerade. He managed a smile in return. “But not better.”

She seemed to be studying him and he felt uneasy under her clear scrutiny. He knew she was interested in him but he supposed that it was the same interest a child would show to a piece of driftwood of queer design found upon the shore.

“You seem to be very happy about getting away from Rio,” she said.

This jolted him. Could it be that she knew more about him than he suspected? Could Paco . . . No, she was just being polite.

She saved him his answer. “But then I suppose the loss of that promised job and the enforced stay in a dull town wasn’t pleasant to a man of action like yourself.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“What for?” she asked in surprise.

He faltered and swiftly recovered. “Thank you for getting me out of that scrape. It’s no joke to be stranded. A seaman who has been wrecked can get transportation to his ship’s home port merely by asking the consul, but a captain cannot.”

“I am glad I had the luck to find you after . . .” She was remembering Simpson and the short, pointless police investigation which had followed.

“I hope I’m not bringing you bad luck, Miss Norton.”

“No. That’s silly. Of course you aren’t. You didn’t know anything about me until after . . . after it happened. I doubt you knew the
Valiant
existed.”

She was looking at the receding blueness of the ranges of Brazil and Lars watched her, glad to be able to do so without having to meet her eyes. It was hard to face that frank appraisal. He hated himself for not being able to tell her about this deceit.

“I have an uneasy feeling,” she said at last, “that there was something more than personal enmity or robbery behind . . . Simpson acted strangely that day. He seemed to know something was coming. Two or three times he started to tell me something and then wouldn’t. And now, although we’re free of Rio, I can’t help but . . . But this is all nonsense. There’s no reason to worry you—indeed there isn’t any reason anything will happen. This world is too well policed for piracy and we carry nothing valuable. Outside of yourself we have no new members in the ship’s company and I have perfect faith in those who have been with me. Still . . .”

She shivered a little as though she was cold. The gesture had a strange effect upon Lars. He wanted to step close to her and put his arm around her and tell her that she needn’t worry an instant about anything. He was there to see that nothing occurred. He was learning about this girl. She ruled those about her but she was kind. She trusted her friends and now she seemed inclined to rely upon Lars. She had a rare virtue in that she could talk to a man and make him feel at ease. Lars wished she weren’t so beautiful.

She was worldly but not wise. She spoke of Paris and Moscow and
Shanghai
as carelessly as most girls talk about a party they have recently attended. Her knowledge of far lands seemed to be limited, however, to a strict upper strata. There was something engagingly childish about her enthusiasms.

“Nothing’s going to happen,” said Lars, almost gruffly.

She faced him again. Yes, he was right. She did rely upon him. That simple statement of his had momentarily wiped away her gloomy apprehensions.

Lars was in conflict with himself. He wanted badly to tell her exactly how he knew nothing was going to happen. He wanted to tell her that one Paco Corvino would one night be missing from the
afterdeck
of the
Valiant,
never to be seen again.

But you can’t talk to a beautiful woman about coldblooded murder, no matter how certainly it concerns her.

He wanted to talk to her more, was glad of this chance, but he heard voices coming up the ladder. With a twinge of annoyance he watched two young women and the supercilious young man come out of the companionway.

“Oh, Kenneth,” giggled a brunette named Alice, “you say the wittiest things.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Kenneth, proudly.

“You do so!” challenged the other girl, a fluttery child called Rosey.

Alice came straight to Miss Norton. “Oh, Terry, you know what Kenneth just said?”

Terry, to Lars’ disgust, seemed interested.

“He said . . . What did you say, Kenneth?”

“I said, ‘If you were Sugar Loaf, I wish I was Pico.’ Get it, Terry?”

Terry made a wry face. “That was awful, Kenneth.”

“I thought it was pretty good,” defended Kenneth.

Rosey took Kenneth’s arm. “So did I.”

“Aunt Agatha,” said Alice, giggling, “refused to make a fourth at bridge after Kenneth redoubled six spades and
set
her last night. She says she has a headache. Won’t you come down, Terry?”

“If our doughty mariner can run this ship without you,” said Kenneth, “you’d save us all from dying of
ennui
.”

Terry did not want to leave very badly. “Where’s Ralph?”

“He’s reading a book on big game hunting,” said Alice, giggling. “He says he’s going to Africa, just as though anybody ever goes to
Africa.
He says he’s going to shoot a . . . What was it, Kenneth?”

“A wamphohitadile,” said Kenneth.

Rosey laughed and looked adoringly at Kenneth. Alice shrieked. Terry suddenly looked sideways at Lars and saw that he was not smiling. He did not notice. He was watching Kenneth with amazement.

A quiet, unobtrusive laugh was heard behind them and Paco edged through.

“How was that one?” demanded Kenneth of Paco.

“A rare animal,” said Paco, smiling. “Is it the one which drinks oysters and eats beer?”

Everyone laughed except Lars and the helmsman, who concentrated upon his job. Lars noted carefully that Paco’s air took all the freshness out of his remark. He was being flattering to Kenneth. Paco shot Lars a triumphant glance which clearly said, “See, they think me most amusing. I can wrap them around my finger without half trying.”

Paco touched his cap to Terry. “Miss Norton, I have set up the table and made ready the cards. In Rio I picked up a new kind of sandwich which I would like you to try.”

“Did you remember the champagne?” demanded Kenneth.

“Vat ’79, wasn’t it, sir?” said Paco.

“That’s right!” cried Kenneth. “Paco, you’re a mastermind. You remember everything!”

“I try to please, sir,” said Paco, smiling.

The group moved toward the companionway and Paco carefully and politely aided Terry to descend the steep steps. But Paco did not follow them below. He came back to Lars, glanced at the helmsman to make certain the man was far enough away, and then relaxed into his easy, confident grin.

“We’re on our way,” said Paco, waving his hand gracefully back toward the sleeping giant. “By this time you’ve probably changed your opinion of me. It’s not everybody who could keep the center of the stage around here. They don’t brush their teeth without asking me first. Aunt Agatha makes me choose her books for her and Ralph makes me tell him about strange ports where I’ve never been and . . .”

“I’m not interested,” said Lars.

“No?” smiled Paco. “But you will be. Next time you’re around Miss Norton, get her started on the subject of titles.”

“What titles?”

“Dukes and princes and earls. Alice and Rosey both have
peerages
in their cabins—or did until yesterday. They’ve got money but they haven’t social position. Get it?”

“No. Get off the bridge.”

“You will soon enough. I’m deep, Lars. You ought to know that by this time. Napoleon was a half-wit compared to me.”

“Listen here, Paco,” said Lars very quietly. “This is my bridge, no matter how I got here. And stewards walk lightly aboard my ships. Now get below.”

Paco rocked on his heels and his grin grew in impertinence. Then he laughed aloud and turned toward the ladder. He stopped at the top and looked back. He laughed again and clattered down out of sight.

Lars faced the wind again and watched the changing hues of the sea. But the elation was gone from him now. A nagging, bitter wrath, which had been with him these many years, was blown into its full force.

He did not like his position. He was too much a man of swift decision and straightforward action to appreciate the sublety of the maze which was enfolding him. He only knew one thing. He had to keep near Paco if he ever wanted to even up the score. And he had to make sure that nothing happened to this girl.

True, if anything happened to Paco, it was the Penal Colony again for Lars Marlin. If he tried to upset Paco’s game, Paco would risk everything to show Lars up as an escaped convict—he might even try to pin Simpson’s murder on him.

Something was about to happen. Something was happening this very instant. But Lars knew his best chance lay in waiting. As yet he knew nothing except that Paco had a way to make four million francs. He vowed the grinning Spaniard would never live long enough to spend them.

Lars hit the rail with a clenched fist. If he could only think of some way to destroy Paco without destroying himself!

CHAPTER FOUR

Paco’s Strange Illness

A
T
eight
bells
in the evening, Lars was again on duty, relieving First Officer Johnson. Johnson and the other two mates were efficient enough, very average mariners, but it was indicative of their lack of ambition that there was not another master’s
ticket
aboard the
Valiant.
They all had little enough to say to Lars. He was a stranger to them and though they could easily see that his seamanship was good, they reserved judgment.

Lars Marlin’s state of mind was not a calm one and his natural silence, added to this, gave him a reserved air which they mistook for austerity.

Comfortably plump Johnson gave over the bridge with a salute and the single statement of the course and left. The quartermaster was relieved by the same man who had been steering on Lars’ first
trick
.

Lars looked into the
binnacle
, contacted his lookouts and then went into the wing to lean against the rail and look forward into the velvet warmth of the night.

Lars had wanted this trick because the
Valiant
was still close in, crossing the steamer lanes which led to Rio from the north.

He felt the strangeness of his responsibility. He had, in this command, the lives of these people to protect. But more than that, he could not be certain just how or where Paco would strike.

He felt very uncertain about Paco in several ways. The amazingly debonair cutthroat had worked himself into the confidence of this entire party. They suspected nothing of his past operations and had no inkling of his present plans, whatever they were.

Paco’s luck was wonderful. With the utmost carelessness he had committed a “perfect” crime. He would never be brought to book by the Rio authorities for that murder. The audacity of the crime was quite in keeping with Paco’s past operations.

Simpson had been found in an alley with three inches of steel though his heart. No knife, no clues, no visible reason why Simpson had been killed.

Facing the police, Paco had been wide-eyed and innocent. Miss Norton’s solid recommendation about Paco had completely blocked any effort on the part of the police to investigate Paco’s past. It was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind that Paco had done the murder. He had grieved realistically, had told Miss Norton gallantly that he would help her.

Lars writhed when he remembered how he had been introduced to Miss Norton for the first time. Paco had made him buy clothes suitable for the occasion. Paco had presented him with quite an air, saying he had good reason to know that Lars “Lowenskold” was an excellent officer. And Miss Norton, shaking his hand, had looked kindly upon Lars and had said, “Anyone Paco recommends is acceptable to me.”

BOOK: Cargo of Coffins
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