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Body on the Beach

Arthur Wallace

Was it all a ghastly joke? Or was Jerry really dead? And if it was death, what had happened to the body? The aftermath of a wild party leads to even wilder things

IT WAS dark as hell. I couldn't see a damn thing. I sat up in bed and rubbed my hand over my face. It didn't help. I felt like a piece of pickled tripe looks—if you can imagine that. Something had crawled into my mouth and passed out there. I was sure of it.

I tried to figure out what had happened but it was like piloting a ferryboat through a fog. The wheels wouldn't mesh. I remembered letting a cozy little blonde talk me into another champagne cocktail. I remembered the blonde but not the cocktail.

I looked at my watch. Luckily it had a radium dial. It was ten minutes short of midnight. Where was everybody? Jerry and Paula and the rest of the gang? Had they all passed out?

I started to swing my legs off the bed but they bumped up against something. I reached out to feel what it was. My fingers touched a face—a man's face. I drew back fast. It was cold and clammy, that face. Not warm like my own. My scalp began to crawl and the hair follicles opened and closed like little mouths. My spine was an icicle.

Somehow I scrambled off the other side of the bed, groped for the light switch. It seemed like a year before I found it. The sudden brilliance blinded me. When I could see again, I stood there, gaping at the bed.

THERE was a body stretched out on it. Sticking up from the body's chest was the blood-stained handle of a knife. Step by step I drew nearer. A scream started way back in my throat. Horror silenced it.

The dead man on the bed was Jerry Harris! My friend, Jerry Harris! Dead! Murdered!

The next few minutes were stolen from my life. I never lived them. They were a complete mental blank. The next thing I knew I was staring at my hands. They were caked with dry blood! I had Jerry's blood on my hands! Jerry's blood!

I tried to pull myself together but I was shaking like a leaf in a high wind. Don't be a fool, I said to myself. You didn't do it. Brace up! Scream! Do something!

I did something. It seemed like the only logical thing to do at the moment. I tip-toed through the hall and went into the bathroom. I scrubbed my hands clean, washed the bowl out a dozen times.

Out in the hall again I listened for sounds. There weren't any. Jerry Harris' beach bungalow was still as a tomb—his tomb!

I got the feeling then that it was all a mad nightmare. Jerry couldn't be dead! It was a joke they were playing on me! A ghastly, grisly joke, Jerry wasn't dead at all!

I stalked into the bedroom, grinning. "How does it feel to have a knife in your chest, Jerry?" I said out loud. He didn't move a muscle. I licked my lips. They were dry. "So long, pal," I said, starting for the door. "The gag is all washed up."

I turned at the door, retraced my steps to the bed. I began to get a little panicky. I reached out and touched Jerry's cheek. It was like ice.

"Jerry!" I screamed, backing away.

I STUMBLED out into the hall, ran down the stairs. There was a light in the living-room. I rushed in. Merril Lord, Paula's brother, was sitting on a divan with the cute little blonde who had offered me that last cocktail stretched across his lap, face down. He was playing tick-tack-toe on her bare back with the burnt ends of matches. Her skirt was up above her knees. She was out cold.

Merril wasn't sober by a long shot. His eyes were glassy and his head rolled. He looked up at me but nothing registered. He went back to his game on the blonde's bare back.

My eyes swept the room. There was a man asleep under the piano. It was Leonard Barker, Jerry's brokerage partner. The slinky brunette he had brought to the week-end party was curled up in a love seat, one white arm drooping. Someone had torn the bodice of her ...

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