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BLOOD-BAIT for HUNGRY MERMAIDS

by John Wallace

Author of "Terror Is Cupid's Mate," etc.

My Pamela would be the most beautiful mermaid of them all, and that was what mattered—not
that a fiend's fishhook would be torn from her lovely mouth, not that her lovely body would be
split in two
!

THE afternoon was grey, cheerless, and suffused by a miasma of melancholy. The sea seemed to whisper mournfully of inscrutable mysteries within its depths. My big white cabin cruiser bobbed listlessly upon the Florida inlet, as if even it, an inanimate thing of wood and metal, felt the depressive influences of this day.

I crossed over to starboard, where Jack Wilson was helping the two girls with their fishing tackle. Wilson was an artist who spent six months of each year here in his villa on the East Coast. Moody, dark, saturnine, he had always impressed me as having strange wells of morbidity within his spirit. Today he was unusually morose, and I knew the reason why.

"I suppose we may as well return and look at the stuffed fish in the game room," I said. "They just aren't hungry out here today."

"It is a poor day," said Pamela. "An odd day." She shivered slightly, looked up at me. And forced a smile with her beautiful brown eyes. Her hair was golden, her body a gorgeous tan. Men's hearts could well be excused for pounding wildly in her proximity.

From the corner of my eye I saw Wilson's eye smolder, saw his hand clench involuntarily, saw him take a deep breath. He was jealous, certainly, and he didn't want to show it because I never had shown jealousy to him. I actually liked the man in a way, for he was a first rate artist. It wasn't altogether impersonal generosity on my part which made me invite him on fishing trips and to house parties where Pamela could divide her time between us: it was simply the knowledge that intelligent women dislike jealous men—and that the surest way for a man to lose the woman he loves is to display jealousy.

I'D given Pamela every chance to choose Wilson, if she wanted him. And the result was that she gradually came to favor me. I didn't gloat in this knowledge, nor even show it. I assumed an easy, friendly attitude about the whole thing. But Wilson, being I suspected, tempestuous as well as temperamental, had been less successful in hiding his feelings. He never yet had allowed his jealousy to explode, but he had given those slight indications of it a number of times.

"I wanted to catch a barracuda," Lucy complained. She was nineteen, blonde and pretty. Pamela's sister. Unofficially, Wilson was escorting her, but it was plain enough whom his thoughts were on.

I went for'ard and told Hawkins: "Heave to. We're going in."

"Aye, sir," Hawkins said. He was about forty, scar- faced, and surly. He could handle the boat. But sometimes, when he looked right through both girls, I wasn't sure it was sensible to keep the man around.

Forsythe was reeling in his tackle on the port side. A big, handsome man, greying at the temples. And my new partner in business since the death of my father three weeks past. John Forsythe had been my father's partner in a large wholesale establishment in Philadelphia. My father had shot himself in his study, in a fit of despondency. His health and mind had been failing for several years. It had been as much a shock to John Forsythe as it had been to me. It's hard to be business partner and friend to a man for ten years and then have it end that way. I'd invited him to come down to Florida with me for a month. A change of scene is always the best antidote for grief.

The boat headed in for shore and as we passe...

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