Mission: Murder – Conspiracy, theft, murder and the love of a good woman are the key ingredients to these stories by John D. MacDonald
My Mission Is Murder (1947) – Silently, relentless, Jan Dalquist stalked his human quarry
Who’s the Blonde? (1952) – He was four thousand dollars short, and the cops had it figured out. They said he’d wrapped the bills and shoved them across the counter to the girl.
My Husband Dies Slowly (1948) – Lovely Liz Dutton got all dolled up — to go hunting out of season.
Chapter One – A Tarnished Frame
Chapter Two – Mercenary Babe
Chapter Three – Cocktail Siren
The Curse of the “Star” (1951) – That the Lady Was Afraid Was Only Too Obvious; the Young American Was No Rescuer of Maidens in Distress, Still — He’d Like to Know the Answer
A six chapter novella.
John D. MacDonald (1916-1986) was one of the best crime and mystery writers of the era. His most famous creation was his series of Travis McGee books.
MacDonald’s writing career began by accident. He was a Harvard Business School grad who had joined the Army in 1940 where he was commissioned as a first lieutenant of the Army Ordnance Corps. From 1943 to 1945, he was stationed in the China-Burma-India theatre of war, first in India and later in Ceylon.
In Ceylon he served with the OSS and his letters home were heavily censored. At one point he wrote his wife Dorothy (1911-1989), a story instead of a letter. She typed up the story from his letter and submitted it to Esquiremagazine, which rejected it. Then she sent it to Storymagazine, which accepted it for $25, good money for that time. She kept this a secret until he returned home in 1945 and presented him with the $25 check Story had paid for the tale. It was then that MacDonald made the decision to try writing as a profession.
After his discharge in September 1945 as a lieutenant colonel, MacDonald wrote fourteen hours a day, seven days a week, receiving rejection after rejection until he finally sold a story to the pulp magazine Dime Detective for $40. He ended up selling nearly 500 short stories to the pulp magazines in all genres: mystery, adventure, sports, Western, and science fiction.
ON THE way to the hotel he sat in the back of the taxi, a broad, sullen-looking man, searching deep inside of himself for the sense of satisfaction that should be his. There was nothing there but weariness — a dejection compounded of the solid year of search. From the beginning he had known he would win, one day. The perennial cliche of the ever-narrowing world drifted through his mind, and he smiled tightly. No, there is no haven in this world for a man who is hunted.
Once upon a time there had been hiding places. The Foreign Legion, the lonely cattle camps along the Amazon, the fields north of Kimberley. But this is a day of fingerprints, forms, visas, permits, regulations — statistical control of population.
“And what is your reason for desiring entrance to this country, Monsieur?” “How long do you intend to stay, Sahib?” “How do you intend to support yourself, Señor?”
Of course, there is always the secret landing by night from a small boat. But then the multitudinous wheels of bureaucracy grind out the little pink and green forms — work permits, income taxes, census — and it is as though your coming and your forced departure and your name and your secret were written across the sky for all to see.
Even so, it is easier to hide from a government than it is to hide from a man.
Jan Dalquist, riding placidly up Canal Street in the back seat of the taxi, recognized this fact. Particularly if the hunter is provided with adequate funds. The hunter doesn’t have to be clever. Jan Dalquist knew his own faults. He wasn’t clever. He was dogged, painstaking, stubborn, silent and grim. Not clever. Not clever at all. But he was an excellent hunter of men. The huge net of the justice that the Democracies dropped over France and Germany after the war was a net of compromise. The diameter of the mesh had to be small enough to entrap the major and intermediate beasts who walked like men. But it could not be so small that it would sein in millions who, by burdening the mechanism of justice, would make fair trial impossible. As a consequence, thousands of vicious little men had slipped through the meshes and scattered across the world.
Jan Dalquist had been after one of these men for a year.
He was not employed by any government. He was paid by a small group of French industrialists: men who had been beaten to the earth by the German occupation, men who had not known how to compromise, men who thirsted for revenge in the calm, unemotional manner of a banker collecting a debt. They paid for the hunting of other Frenchmen. They were well satisfied with Jan Dalquist. They paid well for the service of a reliable assassin.
Jan Dalquist was after a Jean Charlebois. The facts were very simple. At the time of the Allied invasion, a large band of Maquis were wiped out by German troops. A betrayal was suspected. Only three of the Maquis escaped. Later, after the town was captured, German records indicated that the betrayal had been engineered by one Jean Charlebois. one of the three who had escaped. The son of one of the industrialists who financed Dalquist had been killed in the raid. Thus the assignment to find and kill Charlebois.
The industrialists had little patience with the slow machinery of government. So Jan Dalquist, who had lived in France before the war, and who had gone back during the war as an operative — air dropped — was contacted and hired as a trustworthy killer.
Had they asked him a bit earlier or a bit later, he would have refused — for he recognized that he was a man with a profound distaste for taking the tools of justice in his own hands, for acting as judge, jury and executioner. But the offer was made while Dalquist was still in an army hospital where a clever surgeon was attempting to make the ragged flesh and shattered bones of his hands resemble fingers, trying to cover the bone-deep burns on the soles of his feet with skin grafts from the insides of his thighs.
The memory of the basement room in Gestapo Headquarters was too vivid. And so Dalquist had said yes. And having once agreed, it was not in a man to back out until the job had been completed.
They gave him three names. Dalquist had found the first traitor in Brazil after nine months of search. He still awakened in the middle of the night, seeing again the death of the first. He remembered the man’s hand most of all. It had happened in a field outside of Belem. Long after the man had appeared dead, the hand scrabbled at the white dust.
He had found the second one in Montreal after another seven months. The ice was thin on the river. Almost transparent. After he had shoved the body down through the hole he had stamped through the ice, he saw it being borne away by the current, turning lazily so that once the misty face was turned toward him, the eye sockets dark under the film of ice.
And he often dreamed of this, too.
The taxi arrived at the hotel and he registered and followed the boy up to his room. He tipped the boy, locked the door and stood for a long time at the window, his mutilated hands shoved deep inside his side pockets, staring down fourteen stories at the busy New Orleans streets. A square, quiet man with a grave face which held a look of suffering. He looked across the gilded channel of Canal Street, looked into the narrow streets of the French Quarter. Jean Charlebois might yet be there. If so, it was the end of the third search, the end of the mission. But he wouldn’t permit himself to think of what he would do once Charlebois had been found and punished. Such thoughts would dilute resolve.
He unlocked his bag, took out the small black notebook. He sat on the edge of the bed and examined, with little interest, the record of the search for Charlebois. The man had escaped the consequence of his treachery for two and a half years. There was very little writing on the sheet.
Jean Charlebois left France on foot, crossing into Spain. He remained in Barcelona for three months, perfecting his Spanish and obtaining a passport as a Spanish citizen. He took the name of Ramon Francesco. With a Portuguese visa, he went to Lisbon. He remained there four months, and booked illegal passage on a Portuguese freighter, debarking in Guatemala. He dropped out of sight, reappearing in Mexico City. During the time he was out of sight he assumed the name, Pierre Duval. Crossed the Mexican Border into Texas illegally.
Was unable to locate him until I intercepted a letter he wrote to a Mexican girl in Mexico City. Letter stated that he was working as waiter in a cafe called the Ancient Door on Burgundy Street in French Quarter of New Orleans. Have arrived in New Orleans twenty-four days after the letter was written. Believe that he is still in the city.
Jan Dalquist slapped the book shut and put it back in the suitcase.
He sat, studying his hands, rubbing the numb tips of his fingers together, looking at the places where there should have been fingernails. There was no sense of accomplishment in him. Only fear. And not of Charlebois. It was an odd fear. It was as though, three years before, in a basement room in Gestapo Headquarters, he had ceased to exist. He had become a machine, dedicated to the wishes of a small group of bitter men.
This was the last case. After it was over, he would have to find himself again. There would always be men who would pay him to hunt other men. But that wasn’t the answer. He knew that the two and a half years of constant search, of sudden violence, had deadened him, soured him. No, that wasn’t the answer. He began to think of himself working with moist earth and growing things, with placid acres on which the sun beat and the rains fell. He could almost smell the rich loam.
Excerpt From: John D. MacDonald. “Mission: Murder.”
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