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When a millionaire playboy disappears overboard from his yacht,
it's time to see just who slipped up—and where

Big Target

By Roger Fuller

"HOMICIDE," I said, when I picked up the phone. "Sergeant Evans speaking." There was a second's hesitation and then a raspy, half-whispered voice came over the line. Man or woman, I couldn't tell. The person talking didn't want me to know, either; that was obvious.

"I'm not giving my name," the voice said, "but I think you might be interested in the Lance Hall case. It might look like an accident or suicide, but it's not. It's murder."

I blinked at that one. The last I'd heard, Lance Hall had been alive and almost disgustingly healthy. Hall was one of the biggest shots in our town, with plenty of bucks, a big yacht named the Serpentine and a curvaceous bit of fluff named Thyra Madison whom he was going to marry in the Fall.

I pressed the button that signaled the Headquarters switchboard man to put a tracer on the incoming call, but I could have spared myself the effort. There was a click at the other end of the line and the wire went dead. A few years in police business— about fifteen—have taught me to save my breath instead of yelling into a dead phone, so I hung up. A couple of seconds later, my switchboard man called to tell me that the phone call I'd just had came from the Argonaut Yacht Club, Seaside 2-1337.

I called back and listened to the bell signal drone in my ear for awhile. The voice that finally said hello was a heavy masculine one.

"This is Homicide," I said. "Did somebody there just phone Headquarters?"

"There's nobody here but me right now," the heavy-set voice said. "I'm Andrew, the attendant here. I just walked in. Homicide? What's happened?"

"Is Mr. Hall about the club anywhere?" I asked, in turn. "Mr. Lance Hall?"

"I—I just saw the Serpentine come in," the other end said. "Mr. Hall's been out on a trip. If you call the office, they could tell you better than I can whether Mr. Hall's here. Seaside 2-1330."

I thanked the guy and dialed the new number. A girl's voice answered as soon as the first buzz sounded. I told her who I was and asked for Mr. Hall.

"Mr. Hall?" she asked, and she sounded scared. "Mr. Lance Hall?"

"Please," I told her.

"He—he—wait a minute, please," she gasped.

I waited, checking the time with my wrist watch. It was seventeen minutes past ten, a.m. A man got on the wire after a couple of seconds' delay. He sounded flustered, to say the least.

"This is Commodore Atkins," he said, without preliminaries. "You say this is Headquarters?"

"Homicide," I told him.

"Maybe somebody from the police had better come down here," the Commodore said. "There's been a—an accident."

"Something happen to Mr. Hall?" I asked.

"Yes," the Commodore said. "He—it sounds incredible, but Lance was swept overboard in last night's storm. His yacht just came in. The Coast Guard is here, but I suppose it's a police matter, too."

"I'll be right down," I told Commodore Atkins. "Please keep everybody who was aboard the yacht there until I talk to them."

When I hung up I found myself agreeing with the Commodore that Lance Hall's falling overboard really did sound incredible. He'd spent all his life on boats, and unless he was fried, I couldn't see him going into the drink in last night's storm. It had been a fairly severe storm, all right, striking just about midnight, but it had been no hurricane. Lance Hall had been a Bermuda racer, he'd sailed to Hawaii and other distant points, before he gave up sail for power, and he'd run through some pretty heavy weather. But, at that, there's always the first time a man makes a careless step, over-confident of his ability to walk a rail with half a load on.

I checked with the Captain of the Bureau and told him about the phone call I'd had.

"Take a look, Evans," Captain Logan told me. "You know boats and that yachting crowd, though heaven knows how you do it on your pay. Let me know if you need anybody to help you."

I could see the big yacht, Serpentine, at her mooring when I drove down the twisting driveway that led to the Argonaut Club. She was an easy boat to identify, running between eighty and ninety feet. I'd passed her in the Bay a good many times, and even though I'm strictly a sail man, I'd have been less than human if I hadn't felt a touch of envy for Hall.

THE Captain's crack about my knowing the yachting crowd wasn't strictly the truth. I sail an Indian Landing, myself, and the little club I belong to is several hundred degrees removed from Argonaut. But there's a camaraderie among boatmen that links us all together, no matter how loosely. With my club burgee flying, I could get mooring and hospitality from any yacht club in the country, whether the mighty Argonaut or the Canoe Club at Casey's Creek.

I walked into the main lounge of the Argonaut Club to find quite a group assembled. There was a young Coast Guard lieutenant and a C.P.O. taking notes from the men and women who were seated in a tight circle over near the windows. All around the wide, sprawling room there were club members who were trying very hard not to look as though they were trying to listen in, which they all were.

I recognized most of the people in the circle. There was that beautiful bit of fluff I mentioned, Thyra Madison, but she wasn't so beautiful right now. While I looked at her, walking toward the group, I saw her raise her face from the handkerchief she was holding to her eyes and it was distorted, swollen, twisted all out of shape by her tears.

Cynical Sergeant Evans, they call me, and my first thought was that she had a right to be tearful. She'd been within a couple of months of being Mrs. Lance Hall, with all those millions, and now she was just Thyra Madison, a pretty girl, certainly, but without any dough, as far as I'd heard. Automatically, I wondered if Lance Hall had changed his insurance to provide for his fiancée, as he would have if he'd lived long enough to marry the gal. Police work gets you thinking like th...

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