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The Perfectionists   By:

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[Illustration]

THE PERFECTIONISTS

By ARNOLD CASTLE

ILLUSTRATED by SUMMERS

Is there something wrong with you? Do you fail to fit in with your group? Nervous, anxious, ill at ease? Happy about it? Lucky you!

Frank Pembroke sat behind the desk of his shabby little office over Lemark's Liquors in downtown Los Angeles and waited for his first customer. He had been in business for a week and as yet had had no callers. Therefore, it was with a mingled sense of excitement and satisfaction that he greeted the tall, dark, smooth faced figure that came up the stairs and into the office shortly before noon.

"Good day, sir," said Pembroke with an amiable smile. "I see my advertisement has interested you. Please stand in that corner for just a moment."

Opening the desk drawer, which was almost empty, Pembroke removed an automatic pistol fitted with a silencer. Pointing it at the amazed customer, he fired four .22 caliber longs into the narrow chest. Then he made a telephone call and sat down to wait. He wondered how long it would be before his next client would arrive.

The series of events leading up to Pembroke's present occupation had commenced on a dismal, overcast evening in the South Pacific a year earlier. Bound for Sydney, two days out of Valparaiso, the Colombian tramp steamer Elena Mia had encountered a dense greenish fog which seemed vaguely redolent of citrus trees. Standing on the forward deck, Pembroke was one of the first to perceive the peculiar odor and to spot the immense gray hulk wallowing in the murky distance.

Then the explosion had come, from far below the waterline, and the decks were awash with frantic crewmen, officers, and the handful of passengers. Only two lifeboats were launched before the Elena Mia went down. Pembroke was in the second. The roar of the sinking ship was the last thing he heard for some time.

Pembroke came as close to being a professional adventurer as one can in these days of regimented travel, organized peril, and political restriction. He had made for himself a substantial fortune through speculation in a great variety of properties, real and otherwise. Life had given him much and demanded little, which was perhaps the reason for his restiveness.

Loyalty to person or to people was a trait Pembroke had never recognized in himself, nor had it ever been expected of him. And yet he greatly envied those staunch patriots and lovers who could find it in themselves to elevate the glory and safety of others above that of themselves.

Lacking such loyalties, Pembroke adapted quickly to the situation in which he found himself when he regained consciousness. He awoke in a small room in what appeared to be a typical modern American hotel. The wallet in his pocket contained exactly what it should, approximately three hundred dollars. His next thought was of food. He left the room and descended via the elevator to the restaurant. Here he observed that it was early afternoon. Ordering a full dinner, for he was unusually hungry, he began to study the others in the restaurant.

Many of the faces seemed familiar; the crew of the ship, probably. He also recognized several of the passengers. However, he made no attempt to speak to them. After his meal, he bought a good corona and went for a walk. His situation could have been any small western American seacoast city. He heard the hiss of the ocean in the direction the afternoon sun was taking. In his full gaited walk, he was soon approaching the beach.

On the sand he saw a number of sun bathers. One in particular, an attractive woman of about thirty, tossed back her long, chestnut locks and gazed up intently at Pembroke as he passed. Seldom had he enjoyed so ingenuous an invitation. He halted and stared down at her for a few moments.

"You are looking for someone?" she inquired.

"Much of the time," said the man.

"Could it be me?"

"It could be."

"Yet you seem unsure," she said... Continue reading book >>




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