The UNCOMPLAINING CORPSES
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by Brett Halliday
Description: What this Mystery is about-- A Miami fat cat makes an amazing PROPOSITION to a private detective. Police find BEDROOM peopled with lovely nude woman choked to death with her own blue silk nightgown--and an ex-convict with a hole in his head. A long-legged beauty puts 2 and 2 together and they add up to a mess of TROUBLE for a smooth-talking heel. A trigger-happy guy interferes with a very important TELEPHONE CALL and barely lives to regret it. An absinthe-drinking TIGER GIRL who loves to get drunk in the daytime. Three oddly assorted people calmly sit down to select a FALL GUY to take a murder rap. A detective's beautiful wife gets a BRAINSTORM and talks herself into a night in jail. A torn-up LETTER follows a strange and crooked trail and finally sends a man to the chair. Wouldn't You Like to Know-- Why a leading citizen wants to cook up a shady swindle? Why a girl shoots the man who showed her boy friend how to make a thousand dollars in a hurry? How a reckless man escapes arrest in the inner sanctum of a police station? Why a detective arranges to have himself arrested by the police of two cities? YOU will find the answers as Mike Shayne works his way roughshod through the sort of case he loves--to a photo finish, with split-second timing and lives hanging in the balance, while Mike sits back and pulls the strings. This time the strings almost hang him.
eBook Publisher: Gate Way Publishers,
eBookwise Release Date: November 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [276 KB]
Reading time: 175-245 min.
PERSONS THIS MYSTERY IS ABOUT--
redheaded, tough, and daring, is a Miami private detective. He is accustomed to wringing his cases with his two powerful hands till a fat wad of cash pops out somewhere.
dark-haired and lovely, works hard at the job of being a suitable wife to her husband. When she remembers to be careful and not too exuberant, she almost looks her age of 20.
a big-time Miami realtor, is short and thick and ingeniously tailored. Blunt-spoken and dominating, he has always known what he wants and generally manages to get it.
Arnold's second wife, is a beautiful woman. Although she is placid, there is a trace of fear in her tranquil eyes.
Arnold's spoiled daughter, has features that give her the look of a vixen. She hates her stepmother.
Dorothy's pantywaist brother, has the appearance of extreme youth and extreme unintelligence.
a smooth heel who lives by his wits, has half a dozen girls on his string, including Dorothy Thrip.
hostess at the swank Tally-Ho night club, is a dangerous woman with intelligence and no scruples. She likes to display a figure that's enough to make a man's head swim.
Leora Thrip's headstrong brother, was recently pardoned after serving 25 years of a life sentence for murder.
who did a stretch in stir, is trying to stay honest because Mike Shayne proved to him it is the best policy.
Joe's girl friend, is an ex-chippy and 18. She and Joe are going to get married when they can afford it.
the dapper little chief of detectives at Miami Beach, hates Mike Shayne both professionally and personally.
chief of Miami detectives, is an old friend of Mike and is extremely fond of Phyllis--but there are times when Mike puts a terrible strain on his tolerance.
reporter for the Daily News, finds Mike a fine source of sensational copy and is usually willing to play ball with him.
* * * *
SHAYNE REFUSES A CASE
Michael Shayne said, "All right, Mr. Thrip. I'll be over to see you right away." He pronged the receiver on the hook and stood beside the bedside table staring at the wall for a moment, rubbing his chin perplexedly.
It was a large corner bedroom newly decorated in cream and ivory with a light tan and yellow rug on the floor. The furniture was blond maple of modernistic style, a suite which Phyllis Shayne, née Brighton, had selected before they went on their honeymoon to Cuba. Shayne hadn't approved of it, but he hadn't told Phyllis so. Now, after three days of living in the new apartment, he was glad. Phyllis fitted into the modernistic background as though it had been originally designed for her.
An afternoon breeze blew in from Biscayne Bay, fluttering the draperies at Shayne's left. From wide south windows at his right he could hear the hum of traffic entering the city from Brickell Avenue over the Miami River drawbridge. The sounds were familiar. He had listened to them for more than a decade during which he lived in a bachelor apartment one floor below this one, yet it seemed to Shayne that he had never heard them until three days ago. He had an odd feeling that past years had not been real, an interlude of futility while he waited for a two weeks' honeymoon in Cuba with Phyllis and these three days at home.
Shayne looked again at the telephone and said, "H-m-m." He tugged at the lobe of his ear and frowned, his eyes half closed. He grunted again and took six long strides which brought him to a south window where he stood looking down upon the river. A tugboat labored to draw a giant dredge slowly behind it while smaller craft scuttled around them. From the west, pleasure boats gaily bedecked for Miami's winter season glided toward the drawbridge. Magnificent automobiles of the wealthy, lumbering trucks, lesser vehicles raced across the bridge. Boat whistles signaled and long arms barred traffic to the bridge as it went up. A veritable sea of traffic filled the avenue. Cars crawled up, slipped into dangerously small spaces seeking an advantage to make the dash across the instant the long bridge bars were raised.
Shayne walked slowly to an east window and stared out upon the purple waters of the bay where sleek white yachts were moored near the shore or anchored in the channel. From the kitchen of his new apartment he heard the faint clinking of glass and Phyllis's husky voice humming a popular tune. He planted his feet wide apart and grinned at his moodiness.
For two weeks and three days he had let himself forget that hoodlums and crooks and hardened criminals flocked to Miami for the winter season.
His mouth tightened grimly. His fingers contracted into big, hard fists. His honeymoon was over, and Thrip's telephone call meant that he had to get back to work.
He moved hastily across the room, stopped abruptly beside the double bed with its handsome silk rose spread and fussy little pillows. His abstracted eyes sought out Phyllis's small furred mules set sedately beside his own big kid slippers; turned to look at her toilet articles arrayed on the glass top of the blond dresser with its round mirror, and on to the open closet door disclosing his suits companionably rubbing shoulders with Phyllis's sports frocks and evening gowns.
He looked up with a start to see Phyllis standing in the bedroom door with an expression of wifely solicitude on her young face. Her black eyes danced with excitement and curiosity.
"Are you going to stay in here all day and not tell me what the telephone call was? Is it a case?"
"Sounded like it, sweet. Very mysterious. Sinister, you might say." He chuckled and crossed the rug to her. "Looks like vacation's over."
She met him with lifted arms. "Honeymoon, you mean. I knew it would be a case. I wish this could have lasted forever, Mike."
The intensity of her voice stopped his chuckle. He slid an arm around her slim waist and said, "Think of all the murderers who might go unhung if Michael Shayne spent the rest of his life lolling in his bride's arms."
"Is it a murder case? You'll be careful, won't you? You promised me."
Above the luster of her wavy black hair Shayne's lips quirked upward. But he said very gravely, "Yes, angel, I'll be careful. I promised to run like hell if anybody said boo, and a Shayne's promise is as good as another man's bond." He swung her into the long pleasant living-room which ran the full width of the apartment on the east. He squeezed her, released her with a little shove.
"You're putting me off," she accused. "Can I go with you? I'll be terribly businesslike."
Shayne shook his red head at her. "Nothing doing, angel. There's no telling what's up. That was Mr. Arnold Thrip on the phone. He's a realtor with an office on Flagler and he wants to see me at once. I'm not acquainted with the gentleman. He may have committed a murder, be contemplating one, or expecting to be murdered. He may want me to tail his wife for divorce evidence in which case I'll be back in a hurry." He grinned down at her and pinched her cheek. "Besides, he may be an ogre that eats beautiful young brides."
Phyllis looked forlorn. "It'll be awfully lonesome here."
"Chin up," he commanded. His eyes twinkled. "Don't forget I warned you when you forced me into this. Other wives manage somehow. You can take all the calls and entertain any clients who drop in informally for a spot of tea."
"I hope some of your gunmen friends come." Phyllis's dark eyes sparkled. "They'd just love tea." She went to the door with him, holding his arm tightly. He opened the door and she breathed, "You will be careful, Mike?"
He kissed her lips, saying gruffly, "You're not the lucky type, angel. You look so damned alluring in black I'm not going to give you an opportunity to wear it." He settled a limp felt firmly on his red hair and strode down the hall.
* * * *
Neat black lettering on the opaque glass upper portion of the door said: Arnold Thrip--Realty Investments-Enter.
Michael Shayne turned the knob and went in. An impressive outer office met his eye. A third of the large room was railed off as a waiting sector, complete with a thick rug, chromium and red-leather chairs, shining ash trays accurately spaced.
Beyond the polished mahogany railing three girl typists presented their backs to him, heads bowed over clacking machines. At his left an up-and-coming blonde was speaking into a rubber mouthpiece suspended from her neck; she frowned and made a notation on a pad, then favored Shayne with an aloof but interested glance.
Shayne lifted shaggy red brows and let the door close softly behind him. Two long-legged strides took him across the deep carpet to the railing. He dragged off his hat and asked, "Is Mr. Thrip in?"
The blonde did a quick job of sizing him up. Rough tweeds hung loosely on a body that was too lean for his wide shoulders. Sunlight from open west windows made a flame of his hair. His features were rugged with prominent cheekbones and deep hollows. A too-wide mouth and humorous lights in his deep-set gray eyes belied the severity of his square jaw. He was not a typical Thrip client, but then you never could tell in Miami.
She poked a crimson-tipped finger at a button in the small desk in front of her and asked briskly, "The name, please."
"Shayne. Mr. Thrip is expecting me."
The blonde flipped the button over and nodded to Shayne. "You're to go right in." She inclined her head toward a closed door marked: Private. He nodded and went into Arnold Thrip's inner office.
A heavy-bodied man stood up behind a big tidy desk as Shayne entered. Three telephones were arranged in a row before him. A freshly lit cigar lay across an onyx ash tray.
Arnold Thrip wore a white suit of silk pongee molded to a short thick body, ingeniously tailored to give him an air of more height and less weight than God had bestowed upon him. Iron-gray hair was carefully parted in the middle, thick jowls showed blue-gray from a recent close shave. His upper lip was short, the lower lip thick and pendulous, giving an effect of petulance, though this was nullified by the strength and severity of a blunt jaw and short, broad nose. His eyes were light brown and slightly bulging.
Shayne's first and strongest impression was one of latent power and of blunt-spoken dominance. A man who had always known what he wanted and who generally managed to get it.
Thrip stood flat-footed behind his desk and inclined his head some five degrees. "The detective, eh? Sit down, Mr. Shayne." His manner was curtly cordial, his voice held the resonance of an assured after-dinner speaker.
Shayne tossed his hat onto a filing-cabinet. Loose-limbed, he stalked to the realtor's desk and folded himself down into a straight-backed chair.
Mr. Thrip sat down and placed the palms of smooth hands flat down on the desk top. He said:
"I called you, Mr. Shayne, because I heard you highly recommended by our Miami Beach chief of detectives last night. You're acquainted with Mr. Painter, of course."
Shayne nodded and hooked spatulate thumbs in his belt, tilted back in his chair. He crossed one bony knee over the other and his face creased into a smile that was more sardonic than humorous. "That's a new angle for Painter, recommending me for a case. I was under the impression that he hated my guts."
"Quite right." Arnold Thrip did not smile. Shayne wondered if he could smile.
"I overheard Mr. Painter discussing private detectives," Thrip went on, "and their function in modern society at a meeting of the Beach Betterment Association last night. He cited you as a particularly vicious example of the worst of your class. I gathered from his remarks that there is little you would refuse to undertake--for a price."
Shayne shrugged. His smile was replaced by a blandly receptive expression. "Whom do you want murdered, Mr. Thrip?"
Thrip shook his head from side to side. A breeze came through the open window behind him and swirled gray cigar ashes into a mound at the edge of the onyx tray. He pointed a forefinger at Shayne and spoke sternly:
"I am a man of few words, Mr. Shayne. I trust you will not waste my time and yours in feeble witticisms. I have a business proposition to put to you confidentially." He paused, hunched his heavy body forward to pick up the lighted cigar which now held half an inch of gray ash.
Shayne took a cigarette from his shirt pocket and stuck it between his lips. Past the flame of a match he said, "Shoot."
"From Mr. Painter I gathered that you are in contact, on rather intimate terms, with the criminal element in Miami, Mr. Shayne. Mr. Painter, in fact, gave me the impression that the personnel of your detective agency is composed of men whom he characterized as yeggs and hoodlums."
Shayne didn't explain that his was a one-man agency. He said with deceptive mildness, "Peter Painter has a flair for going out on a limb with unfounded statements."
Arnold Thrip did not appear to hear him. He did not look at Shayne. It was apparent that the man was finding it difficult to come to the point. Still staring down his cigar at the desk, there was a trace of plaintive appeal in his voice:
"I'm sure you will understand that this is an unusual situation for me; a difficult situation to say the least. To a man of your type what I have to propose will seem commonplace, I presume, but it does not come so easily to one who for many years has been a leader among right-thinking men."
Michael Shayne said nothing. A light flared behind his eyes but Thrip did not look up to see it. Shayne waited for him to go on, holding in check his natural inclination to lash out at the nasty-nice hypocrisy of the realtor.
"I need the services of a man who will force an entry to my home, Mr. Shayne. A man who will carry out the assignment in a professional manner and leave unmistakable traces behind him as evidence of his illegal act."
Shayne didn't say anything. He was relaxed and attentive, his lean face expressing no emotion beyond a mild interest.
Thrip glanced up at him and gained assurance from Shayne's attitude. His voice again took on that familiar resonance which Shayne had noted at first:
"I presume you will require no further explanation, Mr. Shayne. The less one knows sometimes the better, eh? Ha-ha. I'm sure we understand each other."
"We don't," Shayne corrected. "You seem to have the wrong impression of the functions of a private detective. In the first place I don't send men out on assignments without knowing what it's all about."
"I fail to see why you need to know any more about it, Mr. Shayne."
Shayne said, "Then you're a damn fool, Mr. Thrip." He got up and half turned to reach for his hat.
The realtor's mouth gaped open and he snatched for his cigar. "You're not--you can't walk out on me," he sputtered.
"Why not?" Shayne's lean face was saturnine. "You haven't any strings on me. You're wasting my time unless you're ready to come to the point."
"Sit down, Mr. Shayne. I was coming to the point, which will interest you." His lower lip rolled out to form a pinkish gray bulb. "I assure you I am prepared to pay handsomely for your time."
Shayne turned back and laid his hat on Thrip's desk. He put his doubled knuckles down on each side of it and leaned forward. In a flat monotone he said:
"Now I'll tell you something, Thrip. I have a license to practice my profession just the same as you do. It's a hell of a lot harder to get a detective's license than a realty broker's, and a damn sight harder to keep one. I'm responsible to the state of Florida for any man I send out on a job. If you've got a proposition to make, I'll listen to it and decide whether it's something I want to take on. I've been picking my cases for years, and when I get in trouble I walk into it with my eyes open and I'll take the consequences. I don't play any other way."
"But--er--can I trust you to keep what I say in strict confidence should you--er--decide against taking the case?"
Shayne straightened from his hunched position. In a cold voice he said, "If you don't think you can trust me you'd better find another detective."
"I do trust you. If I can have your assurance that you will treat this-er-confidentially."
Shayne said, "No," angrily. "If you're planning a murder you'd better not tell me about it." He reached for his hat but the realtor stopped him with uplifted palm and a forced laugh.
"A murder? Oh, no. Nothing quite so violent, I assure you. The--er--deception I propose will not be directed at any individual. I'm sure you will have no qualms about undertaking it when you hear me out."
Shayne frowned, then dropped back into his chair. "I'm listening."
"It's a matter of business necessity," Thrip explained haltingly. "What I require of your operative entails no danger whatsoever--no criminal act on his part, in fact. As I have explained, I merely wish him to force an entry, leaving distinct traces behind him. Once inside he will go upstairs to my wife's room where he will discover her jewel case on the vanity dresser. I want him to carry the case away with him--and to create some commotion so the house will be aroused and his getaway observed by witnesses to testify to it. He will be in no danger, for I possess the only firearm in the house. Is that clear enough, Mr. Shayne?"
"It's beginning to make sense," Shayne admitted. "The jewel case will be empty, I suppose?"
"My wife's maid will testify that all her jewels, which are conservatively appraised at two hundred thousand dollars, were in the case when she retired," the broker told him blandly.
"Also insured for two hundred grand?"
"Why, yes. One naturally carries insurance on such costly articles."
"Quite naturally," Shayne murmured. "I gather you don't plan to explain to the insurance company that you have removed the jewels before the empty case is stolen."
"Not empty, Mr. Shayne. There will be a thousand-dollar bill in the bottom of the case."
Shayne lit a fresh cigarette from the smoldering butt of his old one. In a conversational tone he said, "A lot of people don't seem to think there's anything crooked about cheating an insurance company--or a railroad company--or the government. That's a peculiar side of human nature I've never quite been able to understand."
"I think it's natural, Mr. Shayne. It's a sort of feeling of retaliation because we've been cheated by them. After paying exorbitant premiums to an insurance company for a number of years a man feels little compunction in endeavoring to collect dividends on his investment."
Shayne nodded casually. He got up casually. "I won't touch it, Thrip. I happen to be retained on a yearly contract as investigator for one of the large insurance companies to run down just such frauds as you're planning, and I don't bite the hand that feeds me. And I'm getting sick and tired of having men like you come to me with your crooked deals. It's Painter's fault, of course. I'm going to kick his rump up between his shoulder blades one of these days. Good afternoon." He turned away, jamming his hat down hard on his head.
* * * *
A JOB FOR JOE
A door on Shayne's right leading into Thrip's office from the corridor, came open while the detective was stalking away from the desk. He stopped, facing a woman with the most remarkably tranquil eyes he had ever seen. She turned them full upon him, holding his gaze with a quiet inner serenity which kept him from going past her and out the door.
Her gaze was incurious, yet held a warm regard that was not wholly impersonal. Meeting it, Shayne had a feeling of recognition though he was positive he had never seen the woman before. She was forty or more; a small-boned woman with regular delicate features and a fresh youthful complexion. Placidity clung to her like a tight-fitting garment; every graying hair was neatly in place, and she wore a modish dark dress which seemed to have been selected for its quality of self-effacement.
While she held him with her eyes, Arnold Thrip rose from his desk and came forward. Behind the detective's back he was saying, "Ah, Leora, I didn't expect you in today. This is Mr. Shayne, my dear. Mrs. Thrip, Mr. Shayne. Mr, Shayne is a private detective, Leora."
Mrs. Leora Thrip nodded gently. A faint animation which lighted her whole face conveyed a message of cordial approval to the detective. "Mr. Shayne looks very competent, Arnold. It is a relief to know that the matter is being attended to."
Shayne didn't get it. He would have sworn that she was not the type to connive with her husband on an insurance fraud, yet there was real warmth and relief in her voice.
Arnold Thrip's lower lip came forward again; his upper lip drew away from even white teeth. He brought them together to say, "That's the difficulty, my dear. Mr. Shayne has refused to take the case."
Mrs. Thrip looked quickly from her husband to the detective. Color came into her smooth cheeks. She spoke with grave impulsiveness:
"Oh, I do wish you'd reconsider, Mr. Shayne. I've had such a time persuading Arnold it was the thing to do. Perhaps he hasn't fully explained all the circumstances to you."
"But I have, Leora. Mr. Shayne understands fully. He seems to have--er--a peculiarly distorted sense of ethics."
Mrs. Thrip was half turned away from her husband, again holding Shayne's gaze, urgency replacing complacency. It seemed to him she was desperately trying to say something she did not want her husband to hear. With something of a shock Shayne realized that there was an inner tautness about this woman which gave the lie to her outward semblance of placidity.
He still didn't get it. His coarse red brows came down in a frown. He shook his head slowly. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Thrip." Curiously, he realized that he meant exactly what he said. "It isn't the sort of thing I go in for, public opinion to the contrary." He bowed slightly and turned away from a flicker of hurt or of fear in her eyes.
Thrip bustled to the door with him, and before he could open it said in a low, querulous voice, "If you change your mind, Shayne, send a man out to my house at five so that I can talk the matter over with him. We're on the beach, you know. I'll be there to make all necessary arrangements."
Shayne went out without answering. He went through the reception room scowling, conscious of the guarded appeal in Leora Thrip's eyes, angry at himself for wishing that he had agreed to help her.
The scowl stayed on his face while he went down in the elevator and out into the bright afternoon sunlight on Flagler Street.
He turned east with his long, loose-limbed stride, reflecting wryly that Phyllis was going to be disillusioned when he returned from the interview with less than a big retainer and a couple of murders to solve.
The other side of Northeast First Avenue, he fumbled in his shirt pocket for a cigarette and discovered his pack was empty. He turned in at the Cat's Whiskers and stopped at the cigar counter at the end of a long bar.
The bartender finished drawing a glass of beer and lifted his hand in greeting, then came to wait on Shayne. "How's tricks, Mike?" He had loose lips which scarcely moved when he spoke. Shayne told him he needed some cigarettes and tossed change on the counter. The bartender handed him a pack and jerked his head toward the rear of the room where there was table service.
"Friend of yours back there. He asked for you when he came in."
"That so?" Shayne tore a corner off the pack of cigarettes. "Who is it, Fred?"
"Joe Darnell. He's having it plenty rocky, Mike. Can't you give him a hand? You know how it is when a kid's been in stir and trying to play it straight."
Shayne took a cigarette from the pack and pulled the counter lighter over to fire it. He let smoke trail from his nostrils and nodded. "Sure, I know. Joe's trying, huh?"
"Honest to God. I don't think he's pulled a job since you had him do that work for you a couple months ago. He thinks you're pretty near Almighty God and he says you told him it's the smart thing to lay off."
Shayne grinned. "Joe's opinion is somewhat at variance with the popular idea. The cops been riding him?"
"You know how it is. Some parole officers think it's up to them to ruin any chance a man has of holding an honest job. And Joe's got his girl in a spot and they're worried about that. She's nothing but a chippy, but he's nuts about her and they want to get married."
Shayne nodded somberly. "Tough. Give me a drink and I'll talk to him."
The bartender reached under the counter and handed Shayne a bottle of cognac and a four-ounce glass. With the bottle dangling from his fingers, Shayne went toward the rear, nodding to a couple of men who called him by name. Joe Darnell was sitting at a spindly table with a girl in a floppy hat opposite him.
The kid had a smooth, round face and guileless blue eyes. He looked up gloomily, then brightened when he recognized Shayne. He jumped up and pulled another chair to the table, exclaiming, "Jeez, am I glad to see you, Mike. Maybe you got a job for me, huh?"
Shayne set his glass and bottle on the table beside two half-empty beer mugs. He flopped into the chair Joe pulled up and looked at the girl! A full-mouthed face was under the floppy hat. Her eyes were red-rimmed from crying and she blinked them rapidly when Joe introduced her to Shayne as Dora with a determined note of pride in his voice that was, somehow, pathetic to Shayne.
Dora couldn't have been more than eighteen. Her complexion had the swollen look of early pregnancy. Her chin was weak, and wobbled when she tried to speak, but she didn't appear unhappy or ashamed when Joe explained:
"Dora's gonna have a baby, see? An' we wanta get hitched. But, Jeez, I'm flatter'n a sucker's bankroll after they take him over the hurdles at Hialeah."
Shayne nodded. He uncorked the cognac bottle and poured liquor into his glass. "Fred told me you'd been having it tough. Keeping your nose clean?"
Dejection settled over Joe Darnell's youthful face again. "Sure am, Mike, an' what's it gettin' me? I ain't so sure it's smart."
"It is smart, Joe," Dora said quickly. "Please don't talk like that."
Both men looked at the girl in some surprise when she spoke so vehemently. She sounded more mature than she looked.
Joe lifted his shoulders and eyebrows, spread out his hands, turning to Shayne. "That's the way it is, see? Dora gets in a sweat if I mention pulling a job. But we're flat. She ain't gettin' the right things to eat. It ain't fair, Mike. Me tryin' to stay honest and can't take care of my girl--an' the town's full of chiselers ridin' in limousines an' drinkin' champagne. Sometimes I wonder what the law's for."
Shayne nodded. His face was sour. "It doesn't make sense." He warmed his glass of cognac in his big hands, lifted it, and drank slowly. Irrationally, he caught himself wondering if Arnold Thrip had a limousine and drank champagne.
He placed the empty glass down gently. Dora put her hand on his arm and said, low-voiced, "Joe's told me lots about you, Mr. Shayne. He got a big kick out of helping you on that other case. Couldn't you--find something for him--now?"
Shayne's brooding eyes held the girl's for a moment, then he nodded abruptly. "I think maybe I can, Dora." He turned to Joe, pushing back his chair. "We'd better talk this over in private, Joe."
Dora started to protest the desertion as Joe got up and Shayne silenced her by explaining, "A private detective's business has to be private, Dora. We'll be back in a few minutes."
He and Joe strolled back to the men's room, went in, and Shayne latched the door behind them.
"You really got somethin'," Joe asked eagerly, "or you just tryin' to cheer Dora up by makin' her think so?"
"I've got something, Joe. I don't know--" Shayne moved past a row of stalls to a frosted window which was lowered from the top for ventilation. He stared out thoughtfully at a refuse-littered back alley. "Still got your tools?" he asked without turning around.
"Yeh. They're right where I cached 'em before I went up to Raiford."
"I know a guy," Shayne explained carefully, "who's figuring on pulling a fast one. He's laying a grand on the line for a fake burglary. I've got no use for a bird like that and you need that grand worse than he does. He'll leave it lying handy tonight if you want to go after it."
Behind him, Joe Darnell's face registered amazement, then disbelief. "You mean--you're puttin' me onto pullin' a job?"
Shayne whirled on him savagely. His eyes were sultry. "Why not? The twerp had the nerve to ask me to do the job. He deserves to get his ears knocked down. And he's expecting to get plenty for having it pulled. I wouldn't lie awake nights worrying about it if that mistake cost him a grand. He'll be waiting at five o'clock to explain the lay to you. Take him while he's ripe for the picking, Joe. There won't be any danger. He and his wife are both in on it. He wants an empty jewel case snatched and a jimmied window to prove to the police it was an outside job."
Shayne paused. His nostrils flared widely. "He's going to leave a thousand-dollar bill in the jewel case. Why not cross him up by leaving the case behind and not leaving any marks on the window? He's dumb enough to believe you're going to do the job according to specifications. When you go out there this evening get him to leave a window unlatched. Explain to him that a jimmy won't open a locked window." Shayne paused. His eyes were hard, like gray marble. "By God, I'd like to see him hoist on his own petard. If he tries to stash the jewel case after you leave it behind," he went on hurriedly, "and puts up a holler that his wife's jewels are missing, it'll look like nothing but a plant to the cops and he'll have plenty of explaining to do. Do you get the angle?"
Joe's eyes were very bright. He licked his lips all the way around. "I'll say I do. That's a hot one, Mike. He can't squawk about it without givin' the whole plant away." Joe stared for a moment, dumbfounded, then doubled over with laughter. "That's neat, Mike. Neat, I'll say. And it ain't like he didn't ask for it."
Shayne smiled grimly. "Better not tell Dora," he cautioned. "Women have funny notions sometimes. The name is Arnold Thrip. He's got a place on Miami Beach. Be there at five if you want to take a crack at it." He unlatched the door and they went out.
At the table Dora welcomed their return with a hopeful smile. "Did you get something fixed, Joe?" she asked eagerly.
"And howl" Joe was exultant. "We'll get married tomorrow, honey. We'll be in the money. Boy! What a setup!"
Dora jumped up and planted a moist kiss on Shayne's cheek before he could back away. "I knew you'd help Joe. I kept telling him--"
"Sure, sure." Shayne paused uncertainly, then shrugged his big shoulders. Half to himself and half to Joe he muttered argumentatively, "Hell, it can't hurt anything." He slapped Joe on the shoulder and wished him good luck, lifted his hat to Dora, and hurried out.
It was a little after four o'clock when Michael Shayne sauntered back into the lobby of his hotel where he had kept his old bachelor apartment as an office when he moved up into the new apartment with his new wife.
At the desk the clerk said, "There was a lady in here looking for you a few minutes ago, Mr. Shayne. She looked like class so I used my own judgment and asked her to wait in your new apartment instead of the old one." Shayne thanked him and went up three floors in the elevator. Down the hall to his left he stopped in front of a door and turned the knob.
He took a step forward and stopped on the threshold.
His eyes widened in surprise. Phyllis and Mrs. Leora Thrip were sitting together at a coffee table chatting as though they had known each other for years.
* * * *
AN AMAZING STORY
Phyllis Shayne stopped pouring tea when her husband entered the living-room. She set the silver teapot carefully on the coffee table beside her and looked up with unaffected gladness in time to catch a humorous questioning in his eyes just before he turned his back and closed the door.
She wore a floor-length hostess gown of blue satin which made her cheeks look cool and gave dignity to her slim young body held primly erect. The sheen of her dark hair vied with the sheen of the gown and the illusion was of blue-black hair parted in the center, combed back in waves from a wide forehead. She wore a minimum of make-up. Phyllis Shayne was working hard at the job of being a suitable wife for her thirty-five-year-old husband, and when she remembered to be careful and not overexuberant, she looked almost her full age, which was twenty.
In the presence of a client Phyllis remained sedate and seated while Michael walked across the room to the coffee table, but aside from this she made no pretense of hiding the fact that she had been married only a short time and was hopelessly in love.
Shayne said, "Good afternoon, Mrs. Thrip," as though he had expected her. He tossed his hat on a chair and went around the table to stand behind his wife's chair.
Phyllis tilted her head back and Shayne cupped long bony fingers under her chin. For an instant they looked into each other's eyes, then Shayne kissed her lips, wrinkled his nose at the steam floating up from her teacup.
"Good Lord, that smells like tea," he exclaimed.
"Of course it's tea," Phyllis caroled. "We always have tea at four-thirty," she said to Mrs. Thrip, "and Michael always jokes about it. Why, in Cuba--"
"Such a pleasant custom, my dear," Mrs. Thrip agreed. She smiled. "It's so seldom nowadays one actually has tea served when one is invited to tea."
Phyllis said, "Excuse me a moment," and took the squat silver teapot with her to the kitchen, explaining, "I'll run some more boiling water over the leaves for Michael. He likes weak tea and that bitter taste you get from the used leaves."
Shayne's left eyebrow shot up apprehensively but he didn't say anything. He sat down and took a cigarette from a pack on the table.
Mrs. Thrip wore the same carefully guarded mantle of placidity she had kept wrapped about her at the office. She wore the same somber dress. Against the gold-brocaded chair in which she sat, Shayne saw that it was dark blue. She took a sip of tea and appeared to relish it. She said, "My husband doesn't know I've come to you, Mr. Shayne. He must not know." She spaced the last four words evenly. Her gray eyes regarded him fixedly with that same intent quality of repose which he had noted earlier in the afternoon.
He said, "Of course not, Mrs. Thrip," and lit his cigarette from a small lighter on the table, looking blandly across at Phyllis, who had tiptoed from the kitchen and, behind Mrs. Thrip's back, stood before a built-in wall mirror which pivoted under her touch, revealing a compact and well-stocked bar on the other side. His gray eyes became languid as he watched her fill a teacup with amber liquid from a bottle and go quietly back to the kitchen.
Mrs. Thrip asked, "Did Arnold show you the notes, Mr. Shayne?"
Shayne was turning the lighter between his fingers as if studying its efficiency. He pursed his lips and set it on the table with a quick jerk, expelled smoke from his nostrils, and shook his head. "Notes? No, he didn't show them to me."
"He probably didn't have them at the office, then."
"I suppose not."
Phyllis emerged from the kitchen with the steaming teapot and a tray bearing a cup and saucer and a goblet of ice water. The cup was full to the brim of something that looked like weak tea. She set it before her husband and placed the glass of water beside it, explaining to Mrs. Thrip, "Michael insists on having ice water with his tea every afternoon. Silly, isn't it?"
Mrs. Thrip sniffed, smiled, and said, "It is odd," in a gentle voice.
Shayne looked up as she tightened a quirk of amusement around her mouth. He said, "It's an old Mongolian custom. Tea just wouldn't be tea without ice water on the side. The Chinese think it's silly, you know, the way we put ice in hot tea to make it cold and lemon in it to make it sour and then put sugar in to--"
"Look, darling," Phyllis interrupted, resuming her prim position in her chair, "Mrs. Thrip is here to discuss business. Mightn't you--?"
"Of course," Shayne said hastily. "Shall we go down to my offices on the next floor, Mrs. Thrip?"
A disappointed look was covering Phyllis's face when Mrs. Thrip interposed quietly: "I'd like your wife to hear me, Mr. Shayne. She has been so charming and sympathetic. I believe I can say what must be said more easily with her present."
"So there," Phyllis said in an undertone. A toe of her shoe nudged one of Shayne's number twelves.
Shayne took a sip of cognac from the teacup and agreed. "Wives do have their uses, Mrs. Thrip. You said something about--the notes?"
"Yes. The threats I've received recently. I feel that after you hear about--everything--you will reconsider and take the case."
"You are under the impression that Mr. Thrip withheld some of the facts from me this afternoon?"
"He is in a difficult position, Mr. Shayne. There are certain things which a wife hesitates to confess. That's why I came to you. I'm positive of the identity of the person who wrote those notes, while Arnold is under the impression that they are the work of a crank. I suppose he told you that."
Shayne said, "U-m-m."
Mrs. Thrip nodded as if in understanding. "I'm glad he finally decided to call in a detective. It has been a difficult situation for me." There was a hint of a shudder in her shoulders. "Horribly difficult. At first Arnold wanted me to pay the money demanded. A man in Arnold's position couldn't afford such publicity, you understand. I suppose you'll think me a coward, but I knew the first payment would only bring more demands. I couldn't tell Arnold--without telling him everything."
Shayne took another drink from his teacup and said casually, "I understand, Mrs. Thrip," without even remotely knowing what he was supposed to understand. Over the rim of his cup he saw a flicker in her eyes. An alive, normal brightness which died away, leaving her face immobile. Her eyes were vague again. "To handle he case properly, you realize that I should know all the facts," he added practically.
"I can't tell you the agony I've suffered, Mr. Shayne," she resumed. "The nights I've lain awake. I'm afraid to sleep, wondering." Mrs. Thrip paused. Again she removed her protective armor of placidity and there was fear in her gray eyes.
"That man is a devil," Mrs. Thrip broke out suddenly. He's capable of anything." Her face was drained of all color, and Shayne had a fleeting impression of emeralds glinting between her lashes when she went on:
"Twice lately he has accompanied our daughter to her room after bringing her home late from God knows what evil places."
"What man?" Shayne did not move from his lolling position. The low tone in which Mrs. Thrip spoke was evidence of a great inner turmoil, but when she did not continue her recital Shayne dragged his torso forward, took another puff on his cigarette, and ground it out in a little cut-glass ash tray on the coffee table--one of Phyllis's domesticities, he reflected fleetingly. "Who is this man?" he prompted gently.
Sharp teeth indented Leora Thrip's lower lip. "Carl Meldrum," she whipped out. "I don't know whether that's his real name or not, but it's the name he was using when I met him three years ago." She leaned forward, fumbling nervously with her purse. "This is no time for false pride. I'm going to tell you everything."
"False pride has no place anywhere," Shayne encouraged her. The moralism gave him an inner amusement.
Leora Thrip moistened her lips twice before going on: "I was thirty-nine three years ago. Neither of you can know what that means to a woman in the position I was in. They say that the years between thirty and forty are the best of a woman's life. I was nearing the end. I was hated in my home. Arnold didn't really love me--not the way I want to be loved. His children distrusted me--and hated me. I would soon be forty." She looked from Shayne to Phyllis as if to assure herself of understanding, then relaxed against the back of the chair. "There's nothing--more tragic--than a woman who reaches forty without knowing love. It is the end. After forty--it is too late."
When Leora Thrip stopped talking, Shayne waited patiently for her to begin again. He gave his entire attention to lighting a fresh cigarette. Phyllis shifted her position, crossed her knees, rested an elbow on them and cupped her chin in her hand. Her eyes were a little wetter, enhancing the pity in their depths. The silence was becoming embarrassing. Shayne took up his teacup in both hands, took a deep sip. Over the rim of the cup he saw the woman's hands relax and lie limp in her lap, and she continued:
"I've tried not to blame Arnold during the years we've been married. I've stifled the bitterness I couldn't help feeling. I won't say he doesn't love me--in his way. It's difficult to tell about a man who doesn't--who is impotent. I was young when I married him. Whatever happened to him was not his fault, for he was the father of two children when I married him. I wanted to mother them, but they've hated me since the day I came into their home.
"Arnold loves me in so far as he's capable. He's too passive for hate, but from the first he has resented my having all the money I wanted of my own, and he has resented the terms of my father's estate. My father's will positively forbade the turning over of my estate or money to the man I married. I couldn't have helped Arnold-even if I had wanted to."
Phyllis took advantage of a brief pause in the woman's story and turned on the dim light of a lamp in a far corner of the room. She dragged her chair a little closer to Shayne's when she came back. Shayne moved heavily, sat up with both hands gripping the chair arms. He started to apeak, but sank back again when Leora Thrip shuddered and said:
"Arnold Thrip is a good man." There was an unmistakable emphasis of repugnance on the adjective. "I believe more good men have sent women's souls to hell than all the criminals in existence." Her eyes were raised defiantly, flickering from Shayne to Phyllis.
"Why, it would be better if he beat you occasionally," Phyllis burst out impulsively, and when her words fell upon heavy silence, she added hastily, "I mean if he were normal--and all."
The sun was sinking and darkness coming on. A humid breeze poured in from the east windows. Clouds were banked against the sky. Mrs. Thrip stared out the window for a moment, then resumed her story briskly:
"It all began three years ago, when I was thirty-nine. Thirty-nine wasted years behind me and nothing before me."
During the brief pause in which Mrs. Thrip apparently carefully considered the continuity of her story, Shayne glanced aside at Phyllis. Her eyes were very bright. Shayne grinned and Mrs. Thrip said:
"I met Carl Meldrum in Atlantic City at a house party. Carl's first gesture was--well, he touched my hair as if he thought it beautiful. After that he--he flattered me--made love to me. I accepted his attentions gratefully and I felt innocent of any wrongdoing. What Carl wanted of me was something that Arnold had never wanted. Something he hadn't--well, the power to possess. I couldn't feel any guilt over the thought of giving Carl what Arnold neither wanted nor had the--" She caught her lip as if conscious of the repetition.
Shayne straightened. Phyllis reached her hand out and rested it on his knobby knee. He put his big hand over hers and squeezed it.
"Carl was fascinating in so many little ways. He made me feel young again. I was swept off my feet. There was so little time left for love."
For an instant her face was transformed into a miracle of youthfulness. She lowered her eyes shyly when a flush spread over her cheeks. Then her mouth drooped and she went on in an undertone which Phyllis and Shayne strained forward to hear:
"I went into the affair with Carl deliberately. I didn't believe I could hurt Arnold. I respected Arnold, but--" She checked herself again. Her voice was sharper when she went on:
"But I soon discovered that Carl was evil. You--understand what I mean. What began as a glorious adventure ended in--in shame, before anything irrevocable had happened. I broke with Carl and did not see him until two months ago. Dorothy--our daughter--brought him to our home one evening and introduced him to her father and me. He's living at the Palace Hotel on the beach."
Mrs. Thrip rested her head on the back of the gold chair as if her story was finished. Shayne emptied his cup of cognac and looked into her tortured eyes. Phyllis got up quietly, turned the light up, and brought the bottle of cognac from the bar. She refilled Michael's cup. Leora Thrip was staring out the window, her hands folded in her lap.
"A remarkable story," Shayne said. "You were braver than any woman I know to have told it, Mrs. Thrip."
"It was necessary to make you understand," she said quietly. She straightened, caressed her purse with the palm of her hand. "But there's more. Dorothy--that's Arnold's daughter--is twenty-five years old. I don't understand her, though I've tried since Arnold and I were first married. How does a trapped animal feel? I was trapped. I'm not sure that Carl knew I was Dorothy's stepmother before he met me at the house. He hadn't known me as Mrs. Thrip in Atlantic City. But I think he knew. I think he had found out who I was and deliberately set himself to get his hands on Dorothy. You see, Carl hated me too, in the end, because I refused to be compromised and give him an advantage over me--and my money.
"Even though Dorothy has always hated me, I tried to save her from herself--and from Carl Meldrum. I warned her against him, telling her, of course, that my knowledge of his character had come to me indirectly. She--told me I was an old fool with sex repressions and had better read Freud.
"I decided to have it out with Carl. I begged him to eave Dorothy alone. He laughed at me and hinted that he might be persuaded to do so--for a price. I don't know what he has told Dorothy about me. I'm sure he has told her something--probably a distorted account of our former meeting.
"Then the letters began coming. The letters my husband told you about this afternoon. Their vague hints were not clear enough to tell him what actually lay behind them, but I knew at once they were from Carl.
"Arnold wanted me to pay the money demanded in the letters. When I refused he was inclined to scoff at the entire matter. But I think he has become suspicious lately that there is more than he first thought. Perhaps Dorothy has told him something. I don't know. I don't know how much Dorothy knows. I don't know how much my husband suspects." She made a quick gesture of despair with her hands, clasped them together tightly.
"I am deathly afraid Carl will carry out the threats in the letters. He is subject to violent moods--and three nights ago I heard him stop outside my door as he went away from Dorothy's room. He stood there a long time-then went away." The high note of hysteria in her voice broke off suddenly. She was staring down at her empty teacup.
Phyllis refilled it without saying a word. Mrs. Thrip murmured, "Thank you," and raised the cup to her lips.
Shayne frowned, marveling at the stuff some women are made of. After her long recital she was sipping tea as though she enjoyed it, as though she had come for nothing more important! He took a gulp of cognac from his own cup and asked, "Did Carl Meldrum really love you in the beginning?"
"I think he did. I--am afraid he still wants me, in one way anyhow--perhaps because I refused what he wanted most." Red came up in her cheeks, but she looked at Shayne levelly.
"Yet you think you're in danger from him?"
"Yes. Oh, yes, I'm sure of it. You don't know Carl Meldrum, Mr. Shayne. You wouldn't understand him. No normal man could. He has a twisted mind. He would enjoy hurting the person he loves. You can see the daily torment I live in--and I know it is a source of exquisite pleasure for him to see me writhe when he looks at me with that smile of secrecy in the presence of my family. I must have help, Mr. Shayne. I--I'm afraid to go to sleep at night."
Shayne nodded reassuringly. He emptied his cup of cognac and stared across the pleasantly furnished living room, catching together the threads of Mrs. Thrip's story and balancing them against her husband's story. It was evident that Mrs. Thrip knew nothing of her husband's plan to pull a fake jewel theft.
After a long moment of thought Shayne turned to Leora Thrip and said, "This does put a different complexion on the case. I'm interested. I don't take cases unless I'm interested, Mrs. Thrip."
"Then you'll take it?" Relief shone in the woman's eyes. She glanced at Phyllis and Shayne caught a look of understanding, almost of triumph pass between them.
"I'll take it under consideration, Mrs. Thrip. I'll need to check up on Carl Meldrum--" He paused, drumming his finger tips on the chair arm.
Mrs. Thrip nodded. "I'm so relieved after telling you everything, Mr. Shayne. I feel sure you will know just what to do. It's been such a horrible burden and it's wonderful to shift it onto your shoulders."
Mrs. Thrip stood up. Again she was a placid, middle-aged woman with neat gray hair and tranquil eyes. Shayne stood up and told her not to worry. He went out of the apartment with her and to the elevator.
Phyllis was sitting before the coffee table when he returned. Her chin was cupped in one hand and she looked frightened. While Shayne poured a drink, she said mournfully, "The poor dear, reaching out for life and love before she became forty--and finding only disillusionment. It's pitiful."
"Tough," Shayne agreed somberly. He stood behind her chair and rumpled her hair. "I've just been thinking--when you reach the dangerous age of thirty-nine I'll be a decrepit fifty-four. You had no damn business marrying an old man, angel."
Phyllis laughed and sprang up. She put her hands on his wide shoulders and stood laughing. "Don't say things-like that, Michael. When I'm old I'll have--all this to look back on." She stood on tiptoe to kiss him.
He put an arm around her and led her to the divan where he carefully set his glass on an end table and pulled her down beside him. She snuggled close and said, "It's grand that you can do something for a woman like that. I felt like crying when she first came and told me how you had refused to take the case."
Shayne lit a cigarette for each of them and put one between her lips. "And I suppose you promised to use your influence to get me to change my mind?"
"Not only that," Phyllis admitted gaily. "I promised her you would. In fact, I collected a retainer in advance." She zipped her hostess gown open a few inches and took out a folded check.
Shayne took it and spread it out on his knee, staring in open amazement at a check payable to Michael Shayne in the sum of one thousand dollars, signed by Leora Thrip.
"I told her your services came high but were worth it," Phyllis explained guilelessly. "You can't say I'm not starting out being helpful."
"Yeh, a big help," he muttered. He got up suddenly. "I've got to do some telephoning, angel."
In the bedroom he called several numbers and asked for Joe Darnell. After half an hour without success, he stalked back into the living-room with a strange, set look on his face. He shook his head in response to Phyllis's anxious queries and said dully, "We'll keep our fingers crossed, angel. That's all we can do now."
* * * *
TWO DIE VIOLENTLY
Phyllis awoke to hear rain coming down softly outside the open window and the telephone ringing on the little table on her husband's side of the bed. She nudged him and waited with a chill shivering through her as he groped for the phone. She sat up, urging him to hurry. It was the first night call that had come since their marriage.
It was like being a doctor's wife, she thought confusedly, only worse. A doctor's wife knew that an urgent call wasn't taking her husband into danger, while a private detective never knew.
Shayne was saying, "Yep, Shayne talking," then listened full two minutes.
Phyllis could faintly hear a rasping voice that sounded excited, but Shayne finally ended the conversation by growling, "All right. Sure, I'll be out but I don't see what good I can do." He clicked the phone down and Phyllis grabbed his arm.
"What is it, Michael? Do you have to go? It's raining and you sounded hoarse this evening."
Shayne patted her hand, then pulled the cord on a bed lamp. "It's nothing important, angel. Mr. Painter just hates to think of me sleeping soundly while he's out chasing down clues." He yawned and flexed the muscles of his arms, threw the covers back, and grinned down at the absurdly little-girl features of his wife. "Nice of you to remind me of the danger of catching cold. Shows the true wifely instinct. To keep you from worrying I'll fortify myself against the rainy night."
He swung his pajama-clad legs over the edge of the bed and uncorked a cut-glass decanter by the telephone. He poured a glass full and half emptied it, filled it to the brim again, and got up to pad across the room in his bare feet and close the window. He turned back toward the bed and took another drink, set the glass down, and tugged at the lobe of his left ear with right thumb and forefinger.
"It's important, Michael, and you are worried," Phyllis accused. "You always pull at your ear when--"
Shayne took the glass up and emptied it, sat down on the edge of the bed, and shook a cigarette from a pack on the table. Phyllis lay back and snuggled under the covers, one hand reaching for a cigarette. Shayne lit both from the same match, stood up, and unbuttoned his pajama coat. Shrugging it from his big frame, he said over his shoulder, "Huh. Worried about going out in the cold and leaving my warm bed and ditto wife."
Phyllis said severely, "You're just trying to put me off the track with your compliments. You can't fool me, Michael Shayne. You are worried."
"You've got nutty ideas about the life of a private detective," he growled as he got dressed. "We don't deal exclusively in bloodshed and murder, you know. Nine-tenths of a private dick's work is stuff like--well, checking on hubby to see if he's stepping out, or finding out why little Johnny played hooky from school yesterday, or digging up sister's suitor's dead past."
"You're not fooling me a bit, darling." Phyllis's voice was honeyed. "You know you turn down routine stuff like that." She kicked back the covers. "I'm going with you and--"
Shayne whirled away from the mirror where he was knotting his tie. "Get back in bed or get spanked, angel."
"I won't sleep a wink," she warned him defiantly. "I'll be pacing the floor thinking about those times you got yourself all beaten to a pulp."
"Be sure to pace before the mirror," he chuckled. "You look good enough to eat in those red pajamas. Besides, speaking as a bridegroom, I promise not to get my handsome face scarred."
He turned back to the mirror to finish knotting his tie and Phyllis wrinkled her nose at his reflection in the mirror. When he turned around she was out of bed and standing directly before him.
"Is it a new case?" she wheedled. She touched his tie with a pretense of straightening it.
"Sort of." He kissed her black hair and put her aside and went to the bedside table for his watch. The time was 2:21.
"It had better be a case," she warned him. "It's immoral for a married man to go out at two in the morning for anything except business."
He went to a closet for his hat and belted raincoat, grinning out of the side of his mouth at her. "You've got nothing to worry about, angel. What's left of me after being married to you for two weeks couldn't be anything but strictly business."
He jammed a felt hat down on his coarse red hair and reached her in two long strides. Swinging her clear of the floor he kissed her hard, then dumped her on the bed. She held him fast with hands clasped about his neck and whispered, "Promise you'll be careful."
He said, "Go back to sleep and dream you're married to a ribbon clerk," with rough tenderness, unclasped her hands from his neck and went out through the living-room.
Ten minutes later Shayne was speeding across the causeway over Biscayne Bay to Miami Beach.
The light rain had turned to mist. Shredded clouds obscured the thin arc of the moon as he turned to the left off the beach end of the causeway. A wraith-like mist crept from the bay, making foggy fingers of the light rays from a car behind him. A police car raced past him and he speeded up to follow it.
It swerved onto a side street, slowed, and lurched through an opening in a high wall of coral rock surrounding a three-acre estate. He followed, nosing his battered roadster in behind half a dozen official cars and an ambulance parked in front of a massive two-story house with lights brilliantly flooding every window.
A Miami Beach policeman guarded the front door. He looked at Shayne suspiciously, then recognized the private detective and grunted, "Go on in. The chief's looking for you."
Shayne went into an entrance hall where there were more cops. They regarded him with open hostility; two detectives officiously ranged him between them and escorted him up a wide curving stairway. The thin high sound of a woman's hysterical wailing knifed downward at them through a low rumble of subdued voices.
Shayne climbed the stairs silently, his gaunt face expressionless, bushy red eyebrows crowding down over lowered lids.
A policeman pushed a young man across the thickly carpeted hall in front of them as they reached the top. The young man wore dinner clothes and his face was a ghastly yellow. He kept opening and closing his mouth as though he were talking, but no sound came out. The policeman was being firmly paternal with him.
Plain-clothes men were gathered at the door of the room from which the young man had emerged. Shayne recognized members of the Beach homicide squad and nodded but they didn't nod back. They merely drew away stiffly to let him enter with his two escorts.
At the left of the entry was a luxurious dressing-alcove as large as an ordinary bedroom. Directly beyond was a silver and white bedroom as large as a living-room, and in the center of its rug a dead man lay on his back. Joe Darnell's plump face held a look of boyish reproach; his lips were parted as though he were utterly relaxed. There was a round bullet hole in the center of his forehead. A black handkerchief was loosely knotted around his neck.
Beyond him, men were grouped about a four-poster bed. The detectives shoved Shayne past the corpse into the group. His left eyebrow shot up and a muscle rippled in his lean jaw as he looked down at the nude body of Leora Thrip.
In death she clung to the semblance of placidity which had served her well in life. She had been gagged and choked with her blue silk nightgown. Her eyes were open, glazed in death, her upper features above the gagging gown showed no contortion of resentment or fear. Like Joe Darnell, Mrs. Thrip appeared not to object to what had happened to her.
Her torso was as smooth and slender as a young girl's. Her arms were outstretched with fingers clawed downward at the mattress, limbs stretched straight down and pressed close together with only rigidly down-curling toes to indicate the death agony which must have racked her body while she fought against the torture of strangulation.
Shayne looked at her for a long time, then lifted his gaze to meet the challenging black eyes of Peter Painter across the bed from him.
"Why drag me out of bed to look at this?" Shayne asked.
With a great show of deliberation the Miami Beach detective chief lifted a manicured finger and caressed the threadlike mustache of his mobile upper lip. Someone snickered behind Shayne. Painter glared in that direction with eyes that were like shiny black marbles, then said:
"I wanted to see how you would react to sight of your handiwork."
Shayne snorted his disgust. He started to turn away but the two detectives tightened their grip on his arms. He shrugged and asked in a resigned tone, "What fool idea are you riding this time, Painter?"
"You don't deny that you know her, do you?"
"Of course not. Is that any sign I murdered her?"
"Do you know the man lying on the floor behind you?"
"Sure. I didn't kill him either."
"We know you didn't kill them, Shayne. Not with your own hands or gun." Peter Painter was walking around the head of the bed toward Shayne. His hands were thrust deep in his coat pockets and there was an expression of supreme enjoyment on his delicately molded features.
"But you're directly responsible for two deaths, Shayne. You and no one else. You sent that killer out here on a job. You knew what Joe Darnell was when you sent him out here. Don't try to deny that." The last five words came out a thin-lipped snarl.
"Yes," Shayne said, "I knew what Joe Darnell was. If you're intimating that he was working for me tonight you're a damn liar."
Painter had stopped in front of him on widespread legs. Breath hissed in between his teeth, wheezed out slowly. He was a full head shorter than Shayne and he had to stand on tiptoe to get a healthy swing.
Shayne's head jerked back under the impact of Painter's fist against his jaw. Pinioned on both sides by Painter's men, he made no other move. He licked a trickle of blood from his lower lip and said, "That was a mistake, Painter."
Painter strutted backward, blowing on his bruised knuckles. "I don't think it was a mistake, Shayne. You're through in Miami. Washed up. I may not be able to hang a murder rap on you but you're through as a private detective in this or any other state."
Shayne shook his head from side to side. His eyes were very bright. "What's the setup?"
"Here it is. Right under your nose." Painter gestured triumphantly. "Joe Darnell was a known police character, yet you sent him out here as your employee to protect a client--"
"That's twice you've lied," Shayne interrupted in a remote voice.
Painter stiffened and doubled his fist. Then he smiled. "I don't blame you for trying to deny it but it won't wash. You promised Mr. Thrip you'd send a man out. Darnell arrived at five and told the butler you had sent him to see Mr. Thrip. Accepting him in good faith as a legitimate, licensed and bonded private operative, Mr. Thrip showed him over the house and grounds he was hired to protect. There was an unlocked window in the library. It was too good a chance for a man like Darnell to pass up. While the house slept, Darnell crept up here and into this bedroom--looking for loot perhaps, though probably he came directly to Mrs. Thrip's bedroom for this." Painter pointed a stern finger at the woman who had been brutally murdered in her bed.
"You'd make a good pulp writer," Shayne grunted. "Skip the guesswork and tell me what actually happened."
"Mr. Thrip was aroused shortly after two o'clock by a sound from his wife's bedroom. He admitted to me that he felt a trifle uneasy about the type of man you had sent out and that may have accounted for the fact that he paused to get a loaded pistol from a bureau drawer before opening the connecting door and turning on the light. It was just as well for him that he observed that precaution, for he surprised this fiend bending over his throttled wife. Darnell leaped away toward the door, but Thrip luckily brought him down with one shot. Those are the unadorned facts, Shayne, and how do you think they're going to look for .you in tomorrow morning's Herald?"
"They're going to look like hell," Shayne admitted. He frowned down at the dead woman, then around at Joe Darnell.
"Have you gone over Joe?" he asked suddenly.
"Was he armed?"
"How much money did he have on him?"
"Three or four dollars. If you think you can talk your way out of this--"
"Stop your yapping," Shayne snapped without looking at Painter. He started forward and the detectives subconsciously relaxed their hold on his arms. Painter trotted after him as he strode into the dressing-room and moved from one piece of furniture to another, his gaze searching everywhere for the jewel case which Thrip had described to him. It was nowhere in sight.
Behind him Painter panted venomously, "My men have been over everything. There's not the slightest question--"
Shayne stopped him with a savage gesture. "You've never been able to see anything that wasn't under your nose. Something stinks around here. Even you should be able to smell it."
"There's a stink all right but nothing to compare with the stench that's going to be raised tomorrow when the story comes out." There was gloating triumph in Painter's voice.
"I want to see Thrip," Shayne cut in.
"He's suffering from shock. His physician has ordered him to remain undisturbed at least the rest of the night."
"Yeh," Shayne muttered, "murder is an unnerving business. What about the rest of the family--the servants? I've got to find out--"
"I've questioned all the family and the servants as a matter of routine and there isn't the slightest doubt that the affair happened just as I outlined it to you."
"That's what you say," Shayne growled. "It's what you want to think. It solved everything neatly--even to putting me out of your hair. I'm not taking this lying down."
"But you'll take it, Shayne. I've warned you time and again that you can't play with fire and not be burned."
Shayne turned his back on the dapper detective chief. There was a stir in the hallway outside, the babble of voices. The newshounds had arrived.
Shayne shouldered his way through them as they came trooping in. They shot questions in his direction and he answered them with a jerk of his head toward Peter Painter, who was waiting to be interviewed. Outside the death chamber Shayne stood in the wide hallway looking down the length of it. The policeman whom he had seen pushing the young man across the hall now stood guard outside a closed door on the opposite side about halfway down.
The guard scowled and planted himself solidly in front of the door as Shayne approached.
"Can't nobody go in here," the man said. "Chief's orders."
"Your chief's orders don't apply to me," Shayne told him. "These people are my clients and I have a right to see them."
"Your clients, eh? Bad luck that is for them. The lady in the bedroom yonder--she was your client too, I'm told."
Shayne said, "This is going to be tougher on you than on me," without rancor.
His knotted fist came up smoothly and without warning from his side. It struck the cop's jaw solidly with all of Shayne's hundred and ninety pounds behind it. The man in uniform went down with a surprised look on his face. He stayed down without moving.
Shayne glanced around swiftly to see that he was unobserved, then dragged the policeman up to a slumped sitting position against the wall, opened the door silently, and went inside.
* * * *
THREE UNPLEASANT PEOPLE
When Shayne closed the door behind him, shutting out the hall light, he blinked at the dimness, waited a moment for his eyes to adjust themselves to the faint light cast by a pine log crackling on andirons in a tiled fireplace across the room.
It was a large sitting-room, he soon perceived, with French windows along one side and with open doors leading into bedrooms from two sides. He thought for a moment he was alone in the room. Then he heard the sound of heavy breathing coming from a divan set against the wall near the fireplace.
As he turned his eyes in that direction a trickle of resin gurgled out of the burning log and yellow flame spurted up. In the wavering light he saw two figures on the divan. The girl was sitting at the end next to the fireplace, legs stretched out in front of her. A slim-bodied young man in evening clothes lay full length on the divan with his head in the girl's lap. His face was toward her and he was breathing loudly.
Her head was bent forward and she appeared to be staring down at him intently. Brown hair that was bobbed long enough to comb hung down, shrouding her face from Shayne's gaze. Shayne was certain that they were both unaware of his presence in the room. He wondered if the young man in evening clothes was asleep, passed out, or neither. He wondered if they were brother and sister.
He said, "Hello," and stepped toward them.
The girl jerked her head and the longish strands of hair were flung back from her face. Her eyes looked perfectly round and they glittered in the light from the leaping yellow flame. The young man's head came up a second later, like a released spring. He swung his legs off the end of the divan and sat up beside the girl. His face looked yellower in this light than it had out in the hall when the cop led him away from his stepmother's room. His mouth began opening and shutting again, but, as before, no words came out. It gave him the appearance of idiocy.
The girl smoothed her negligee and asked angrily, "What are you doing, sneaking in here? The police said we wouldn't be disturbed."
Her eyes were actually almost as round as they had looked from across the room. Her lashes were colorless and didn't show drawn back tightly against whitish eyebrows. The effect was, extraordinarily, that of naked amber marbles set into the flesh above high cheekbones. Her cheeks were concave. Her nose and chin were narrow and pointed, giving her the look of a vixen.
Shayne dropped into a chair a few feet in front of the divan He said, "I'm not sneaking. The policeman just happened to be mistaken." He looked at the young man and asked sharply, "What's the matter with him? Can't he talk?"
"Of course he can talk," the girl snapped. She nudged the young man with her elbow. "Say something, Ernst. He gets that way when he's badly upset," she explained more calmly.
Ernst gulped and smacked his lips loudly. He stopped staring at Shayne and asked, "What shall I say, Dot?"
"That's enough," Shayne grunted. "I just wanted to be sure you were human." He transferred his attention to the girl. "You're Dorothy Thrip, I suppose, and this is your brother Ernst."
She nodded ungraciously. "We've both told the police everything we know. Now get out and leave us alone."
"After a while," Shayne promised, "you can be alone all you want. Right now I'm asking questions. I'm not the police. I'm just the fall guy who happens to be plenty on the spot because of the merry goings-on in this house tonight."
"Then you haven't any right to question us if you're not a policeman. Get out before--"
"Shut up," Shayne said. His eyes were murky with anger. He hunched forward a little, his big hands hanging loosely between his legs.
"There's something screwy around here and I don't mean only you two. Were both of you at home tonight when the killings were pulled off?"
Dorothy hesitated, then said, "Yes," sullenly. "That is, Ernst was just coming upstairs when Dad shot the man."
"And you were in here?"
"I was in my bedroom." She gestured to the door behind her with a thumb as pointed and nearly as long as her forefinger.
She bobbed her head. "I was undressing."
"Was Carl Meldrum with you?" Shayne asked the question casually and she seemed wholly unaware that it held any significance.
"No. Carl had gone."
"Don't you generally undress before he leaves?" Shayne asked gently.
She blinked her eyelids down tightly and it was as though a shutter had been drawn over two amber lights.
Ernst lurched to his feet and snarled, "Damn you! What do you think you're doing? Carl and Dorothy don't--"
"Don't they?" Shayne didn't look at him.
Dorothy's mouth was twisted in a tight smile of cunning. She let her eyelids slide up slowly. "How did you know about Carl? The other cops didn't."
"I told you I wasn't a cop. I'm the guy who knows a lot of things and who intends to find out a hell of a lot more."
Ernst sank back onto the divan. His haggard face had an ineffectual scowl and his eyes were hot with suppressed fury. Dorothy put her hands down on the divan beside her and let her head lie back. Her round eyes looked down her nose at the detective, challenging him.
"Carl said good night to me at the door fifteen or twenty minutes before Dad caught the man in Leora's room. Ernst was just reaching the top of the stairs when it happened. That's all either of us know."
"Neither of you is taking it very hard," Shayne said.
"Why should we? She was so damned holier-than-thou--always prissing around--doling out a few dollars now and then when she had millions--"
"Which you'll get now," Shayne cut in sharply.
"Sure Why not? God knows we deserve it for putting up with her hypocritical ways all these years. Believe me, mister, if I wanted to cut loose I could tell you plenty."
"No." Ernst panted. His mouth worked in that strange way and he finally yelled, "No, Dot! For God's sake, do you want to--?"
"I'm not going to." Dorothy tossed him a disdainful glance. It was stifling hot in the room. The burning log was dying down to smoking embers and furtive shadows danced in the corners.
Shayne lifted his gaze and saw Dorothy studying his face with a calculating look. He got up and turned his back to the divan, walked to the fireplace, and lit a cigarette. When he turned back Dorothy looked vaguely disappointed.
"I'll leave you two to your own devices," he said in a flat voice. "After I talk to your father and Carl Meldrum and find out how much you've both lied, I'll be back for the truth."
He stalked across the room to the door, turned the knob silently, and went out.
The policeman was still slumped against the wall in an attitude of peaceful repose.
Shayne went briskly down the hall, nodded to two cops on guard at the head of the stairs, strode down and out into the pale, washed daylight.
He got in his roadster and drove to the Palace Hotel on the beach, went in, and asked for Carl Meldrum.
The clerk told him 614, and he went up. Loud knocking brought no response. He tried three keys on a well-loaded ring before the door opened.
Enough of the day's first light came in an east window to show him a bulky figure lying face down on the bed. He closed the door and stepped to the side of the bed. He was relieved to hear heavy breathing and to smell the stale odor of liquor roiling up as Meldrum breathed.
* * * *
NO HEED FROM A HEEL
The room was in perfect order, the bed made and smooth except for the rumples around the inert body. The windows were closed and the sodden air somehow managed to give the room an atmosphere of disorder.
Shayne opened a window and stood for a moment looking down at Carl Meldrum. His eyelids were wrinkled and unhealthy-looking. His cheeks were puffed and florid. He wore a tuxedo and black tie, and his blunt chin rested against the bow.
Carl Meldrum groaned fretfully and tried to get his face out of the way of Shayne's hard palm the first time Shayne slapped him. Shayne slapped him on the other cheek, cursing in a low monotone. He dragged Meldrum from the bed and placed him in a deep hotel chair where he slumped laxly. He began to whimper and little bubbles oozed out between his lips.
He seemed to be trying to open his eyes but wasn't quite able to make it. A large vein throbbed in his forehead and the bubbles continued to form at the corners of his lax mouth.
Shayne tried slapping him again, with no result. His condition was evidently not altogether alcoholic. Shayne was familiar with all the symptoms of an alcoholic stupor and was frankly puzzled by Meldrum's sodden condition. He knew that if he could get the slightest response from a drunk he would be able to slap him into some semblance of sensibility, but Meldrum had been whimpering and jerking ever since Shayne began working on him and he was no nearer consciousness than before.
Shayne shook his head worriedly and wiped sweat from his forehead. It was hot work trying to slap life back into this senseless hulk. There was no doubt of Meldrum's being drugged in addition to being drunk. He went to the window and leaned his elbows on the sill, looking out over the shimmering blue of the Atlantic Ocean, which was now touched with a red glow from the rising sun.
The Herald would be on the streets with Painter's story by this time. Early risers were rubbing their eyes and reading the headlines--many with astonishment and others with satisfaction. Ten years in Miami had made him many enemies and few friends. A lot of people were going to nod sagely this morning and say to each other, "I see they got Shayne at last. He's had it coming for a long time."
He didn't mind so much except for Phyllis. It was going be tough on her.
He turned from the window with his face grim. Meldrum's eyes were open. They focused imperfectly but there was life in them. They shifted in red sockets, bulging a little, as if the swollen sockets shoved them outward.
Shayne said, "Okay, Meldrum, come out of your fog."
Meldrum's thick lips moved in and out against his teeth but he didn't speak. He lifted his right hand in a limp, despairing gesture, then let it drop. Wrinkled lids closed over his eyes again.
Breathing heavily through flaring nostrils, Shayne rangled his fingers in Meldrum's hair. He crooked his elbow and lifted the man's dead weight by a handful of hair. He dragged him into the bathroom and slid him to sitting position in the tub. He turned the cold-water tap for the shower and stepped back, a frown creasing three vertical lines in his forehead.
Meldrum remained supine, lolling against the edge of the tub. Shayne tried the hot-water tap, holding his hand under the shower until it was too hot for him to endure. Muscles twitched in Meldrum's thick calves but he made no other movement. Convinced that the man wasn't faking, Shayne turned off the water and left him bent over the tub.
He went into the bedroom and began ransacking it. at the end of half an hour he had a tiny address book for his work. The book had been lying in plain sight in the top bureau drawer on top of a pile of clean handkerchiefs. He took another look in the bathroom and grunted with disgust when he saw that Meldrum had not moved, then went back and sat down on the edge of the bed to thumb through the address book.
It seemed innocuous enough. There was nothing more incriminating than two or three dozen names and addresses scattered through it in alphabetical order. They were all feminine names, which was natural enough for a man of Meldrum's type. Dorothy Thrip's was next to the last name in the book. He slid the book into his breast pocket and his gray eyes roamed disconsolately around the room. An avid light gleamed in them when he espied a bottle of whisky on the bedside table. The top of it showed above the telephone.
A few long strides took him within reach of the bottle. He uncorked it, sniffed the bouquet, held it up to the light and saw that it was a little more than half full. He tasted a few drops, washed it around in his mouth, nodded his head, and drank a long draught. His hand touched the telephone when he set it back on the table.
Shayne lifted the receiver and asked for room service, then ordered two enormous breakfasts sent up to the room. He replaced the receiver and looked at his watch. He was surprised to find that he had spent nearly two hours working with Meldrum. He took another look in the bathroom. Meldrum had apparently not moved a muscle.
Thirty minutes later two white-coated men brought a wheeled service table laden with food. Shayne said, "Mr. Meldrum is in the bathroom. Just leave everything covered and we'll serve ourselves." He took a card from one of the men and signed Carl Meldrum to the breakfast charge.
Carefully arranging the table for two people, Shayne sat down and ate more than half of both breakfasts, his ears keen for a sound from the bathroom. When he finished, two sets of silverware had been used. He covered the table and wheeled it to the door, opened the door and peered out, and seeing no one in the hallway wheeled the table out.
Back in the room he stood for a moment tugging at the lobe of his left ear, then went to the bathroom again. From a small ice-water spigot above the lavatory, he saturated a towel and slopped it over Carl Meldrum's face; wet it again and wrung ice water over his hair and face. Meldrum moaned quietly and turned his head, but his eyes did not open. Shayne repeated the process for twenty minutes without effect.
There was a knock on the door. Shayne dried his hands hurriedly and answered the knock. A postal messenger had a special delivery for Carl Meldrum.
Shayne signed Carl Meldrum on the dotted line without hesitation, closed the door and locked it, and sat down on the bed with a blue envelope of heavy paper held gingerly in his hands.
It was addressed in ink. The return address was M.Tabor, and a post-office box number at the Little River Station. It had been mailed less than an hour before.
Shayne opened it carefully to preserve any fingerprints and drew out a sheet of folded blue notepaper. He read:
I have just seen the morning Herald and I would be dumber than I am if I couldn't put two and two together. They add up to four and a tough lay for you. You should have come clean last night instead of lying to me. I've fixed it so you can say you were here from one o'clock on. Don't try to beat me out of my split when the Thrip girl gets the money coming to her.
Shayne read it twice, then put the note in the envelope and slid it into an inside pocket.
He took a last look in the bathroom and saw that Meldrum was inert in the tub. He shook his head, felt the man's pulse to reassure himself, then shoved him down in the tub until his feet rested against the other end.
Shayne didn't bother to lock the door when he went out of the room. He drove along Fifth Street, where newsboys were getting rid of their morning Heralds in a hurry. Their raucous calls reached his ears faintly but he drove on to the causeway without stopping to buy a paper.
In Miami he drove straight to the side entrance of his hotel, parked at the curb, and got out. He went in through a private entry and climbed the service stairway two flights to his old apartment, which had been retained as an office.
A thin-faced legman for the Herald was camped in front of his door. Shayne shouldered him aside and shook his head at the reporter's questions. He put his key in the lock and went in, slamming the door shut behind him with unnecessary force. He went straight to the telephone and called Phyllis in their new apartment one flight up.
When Phyllis answered, he said, "Hello, darling, I've been up to my neck in work. I'll be home pretty quick."
"Thank goodness you still have a neck all in one piece," she answered.
"You're not worried?" His voice was anxious.
"Of course not. But hurry--I have breakfast ready."
Shayne grinned and said, "Okay," and hung up. He looked at his watch. It was nine o'clock. He lifted the receiver and called the hotel desk clerk and asked if there were any messages.
The clerk said, "A telegram came five minutes ago. I was just going to send it up."
Shayne said, "Send it up to my third-floor apartment. I'll wait for it. Don't send any messages to my living apartment."
The clerk said, "Yes, Mr. Shayne." and in two minutes a boy was at the door with the telegram.
Shayne stared at the yellow envelope quizzically, then ripped it open.
It was a telegram from Mr. Sorenson, an executive of a New York insurance firm which for three years had retained him on an annual basis as special investigator for their southern district. The message tersely quoted a clause in their contract and advised him that he was no longer connected with the firm as of that date.
Shayne crumpled the yellow paper in his big fist and tossed it into the front drawer of his desk. He went out and up the one flight of stairs to his living-apartment.
* * * *
MARKED WITH MURDER
The aroma of hot coffee came from the kitchen and Phyllis hurried out to meet him with outstretched arms and a smile courageously fixed on her lips. She didn't say anything and neither did Shayne while she clung to him. Over the top of her head he saw a Herald crumpled up in one corner where she had evidently thrown it.
A smell of burning accompanied by thin smoke poured from the kitchen. Phyllis let go of him with a little gasp, he watched her with somber eyes until she disappeared through the door, then he stalked to the liquor cabinet and poured a four-ounce drink. He was washing it down with a glass of sherry when he went into the kitchen. Phyllis had a fresh linen cloth on the table in the breakfast nook. Sunshine streamed through the windows onto platter of scrambled eggs. She was anxiously bending over an electric waffle iron when he passed her to sit down.
"Damn this thing," she raged, "it's overheating again. It's all stuck on both sides." Her voice was throaty with a suggestion of tears.
Shayne patted her shoulder and slid onto the built-in seat. He said, "Chuck it out the window and I'll buy you a new one."
She scraped out the remnants of a burned waffle and spread fresh batter on the grill. Shayne finished his sherry while she poured him a mug of coffee and silently set it before him.
He sat with elbows hunched on the table, staring fixedly at the opposite wall. Phyllis fussed with the waffle iron and the silence between them continued until the pressure of unsaid things became more than Phyllis could endure. She said:
"A Mr. Gaston called just before you came in. He said you needn't bother to keep your appointment with him today."
Shayne said, "U-m-m." He lit a cigarette and blew smoke into the stream of sunshine.
With a little gasp of triumph Phyllis slid a crisp brown waffle on a plate in front of Michael. "He was--Isn't he the man who had that important assignment he wanted you to take?"
"U-m-m." He spread butter on the hot waffle and watched it melt with outward symptoms of pleasure. He said, "I've had breakfast, angel, but I can't resist this waffle. It's perfect." He dished fluffy scrambled eggs onto his plate. "It's damned swell being married to you."
A tear rolled down her cheek. She turned to the sink and wiped viciously at the wetness with a tea towel. A second waffle was ruined when she got back to look at the iron. She swore at it under her breath and unplugged the iron. Long black lashes trembled down over her eyes.
Shayne laughed suddenly, and it was real laughter. He set his plate over for her, caught her and pulled her down on the bench opposite him.
"How can you laugh, Michael? Do you know what they're saying about you in the morning paper?"
"I imagine I'm thoroughly drawn and quartered, tossed to the wolves, as it were. Does it make any difference to you, Phyl?"
"Mike! You know it doesn't!" She spilled coffee on the white cloth.
"You're not ashamed of a husband who is a murderer to all intents and purposes?"
"Don't, Michael." Tears glistened in her wide dark eyes but she met his gaze frankly. "I called up the Herald and told them what I thought about their nasty, lying insinuations."
Shayne chuckled, then soberly reminded her, "There's always that log cabin waiting for us in Colorado if I get run out of town."
"You won't," she cried intensely. "You'll stay right here and clear yourself."
"It looks bad for the shock troops. I did send Joe Darnell out there, you know."
"Then he didn't do what you told him to do--not if he killed Mrs. Thrip."
"What makes you so positive?"
"Because I know you. You're not--Oh, Michael! you don't think he assaulted Mrs. Thrip, do you?"
"Of course not, angel. I know that Darnell didn't for the same reason you know that I wouldn't have sent a killer out there." He paused to empty his coffee mug, then told her about Joe and Dora while she refilled it.
"Joe was on the level," he went on with a grimace. "He played outside the law but I would trust him further than many men who hide behind legal technicalities instead of using a gun to take what they want. Any man who honestly plans to marry a girl like Dora doesn't go out and deliberately attack a middle-aged woman."
"I knew it." Gladness radiated from Phyllis. "Now all you have to do is prove how wrong they are about Joe."
"That's all," Shayne agreed grimly. "The worst hurdle is explaining why Joe was in the room masked at that ungodly hour of the morning."
"I wondered about that."
"I know why he was there," Shayne told her. "But only one other man knows and I can't expect Arnold Thrip to back up my story by admitting he was planning an insurance fraud."
When Phyllis wrinkled her smooth brow in perplexity Shayne told her about his interview with the realtor the previous afternoon.
"He no doubt plans to use those threatening notes as his sole reason for asking me to assign a man to his house," Shayne concluded. "Even his wife thought that's what it was all about. He probably first got the idea from her insistence that she turn it over to a private detective. Now things have gone wrong and he has a perfect out."
"Do you think he killed Joe?"
"I have no doubt of it. In perfect sincerity, probably. I'm willing to accept his story as the truth until it's proved otherwise, but I question the conclusion he drew when he turned on the light and saw his wife strangled and Joe near her bed."
"You think someone else killed her?"
"That's the way it has to be. I know why Joe climbed in a window and sneaked up there masked. He must have heard something that made him suspicious--something that drew him into the bedroom--we'll never know what. A dying moan, maybe, a convulsive movement of stiffening muscles. At any rate, Joe must have made the fatal mistake of stepping aside to investigate--which drew a bullet from the husband who sees his wife lying in bed murdered."
"It's horrible." Phyllis shuddered. "With everybody thinking Joe did it they won't look any further. And if Mr. Thrip doesn't tell why Joe was upstairs no one will ever believe he didn't break in expressly to attack poor Mrs Thrip."
"We might as well take it for granted that Thrip isn't going to tell the truth. When his plan miscarried he even took the precaution of ditching the jewel box and the incriminating thousand-dollar bill inside of it. For which we can't blame him," he went on calmly. "Why should he admit the truth? He won't have to pull the fake theft now. Coming into his wife's fortune will put him beyond such a necessity in the future. His two youngsters can stop hating their stepmother and start spending her money."
"What about Carl Meldrum?" Phyllis asked sharply. "Where was he last night?"
"Dorothy Thrip says he left nearly a half-hour before the murder took place."
"Which murder?" Phyllis asked sharply. "If your version is right, Mrs. Thrip might have been killed any time before the moment that Mr. Thrip caught Joe Darnell in her bedroom and shot him."
"Good for you, angel. That's putting your finger on what the newspapers would call the crux of the affair. With the present setup no one has bothered to check the times of death closely. Painter and his crew are assuming that they died practically simultaneously and that assumption suits Peter Painter right down to his little number seven boots. He's got a ready-made victim unable to tell his own story--and it has the added virtue of putting me on the spot. I can't expect any official help in proving that her death occurred before Joe's."
"But can't you prove at least that Joe wasn't working for you when it happened? That you just tipped him off about the money in the jewel box?" She paused reflectively, then added, "And there's Dora--I feel terribly sorry for her--maybe her testimony about them needing the money so badly to get married--and the baby and all."
"We'd better leave Dora out of it. She'd probably ball everything up if a lawyer got hold of her. I can tell my story," he explained patiently, "but I haven't an iota of proof to back it up." His mouth tightened grimly; his eyes were sober. "Unless I can make Thrip admit his reason for calling me in yesterday," he ended harshly.
He stood up, shaking his head while his wife scanned his face anxiously.
"You didn't mean that about running away, did you, Michael? You'll stay here and clear it up, won't you? You always have."
Shayne grinned down at her. "I meant it for your sake, angel. I didn't know how you were going to take it. If I can't clear Joe it's going to be all up with me as a private detective. I'll have my license revoked and I'll be on the black list of every state in the Union."
"Then you'll have to clear Joe." Mrs. Michael Shayne summed the thing up simply and firmly.
"With every card in the deck stacked against me," Shayne muttered. He turned into the living-room and Phyllis followed him, saying excitedly:
"I'd check up on Carl Meldrum. If Joe didn't do it, he must have. Mrs. Thrip admitted she was afraid of him. He probably got mad because she didn't pay off on his notes and killed her in a fit of rage. She said he had terrible rages at times, and he was there last night at about the right time."
Shayne stopped near the door, rubbing his lean jaw with its red bristle of beard. He didn't mention his visit to Meldrum at his hotel nor the special delivery from Mona. He said, "That isn't much of a motive for murder. As long as she was alive he had reason to believe he might be able to blackmail her. With her dead, that opportunity is gone."
"But he's got his clutches on Dorothy," Phyllis reminded him. "She'll come into money. Maybe he thought it would be easier to squeeze it from her than from her stepmother."
Shayne said, "Maybe." He reached a long arm out for his hat and turned to kiss Phyllis good-by. She clung to him then stepped back and gave him a little shove toward the door. "I'll be betting on you, Detective Shayne, and I might even be able to help some."'
Shayne was on the point of explaining just how much she had already helped when there was a light rap on the door. He put Phyllis aside and opened the door. He frowned when he saw Dora standing in the hall. Her eyes were enormous beneath the floppy brim of her hat, bloodshot and distended. She didn't have any powder on her face and her cheeks had a scrubbed look. She wore a sleazy black dress that bulged in front, silk stockings with runs in them, and scuffed red slippers.
She stared at Shayne as though she didn't recognize him, stared past him at Phyllis.
Shayne put a big hand on her elbow and drew her inside. Her fingers were clenched tightly in front of her on the clasp of a shabby patent leather bag.
Shayne said, "This is Mrs. Darnell, darling."
Phyllis exclaimed, "Oh!" and started forward impulsively, holding out both her hands to the girl.
Dora made no move to take her offered hand. She stood looking at Phyllis with the same tragic lack of expression that had greeted Shayne. She wet her lips and said tonelessly, "Your wife, huh?"
"Yes. I'm Mrs. Shayne." Phyllis caught her underlip between her teeth and glanced anxiously aside at Michael.
He had taken a step back and was watching Dora intently. Getting no response from him, Phyllis took Dora's arm and urged her toward the divan, saying solicitously: "Michael feels so terrible about Joe. And--oh, I'm so sorry. I--know how you must feel."
Dora said, "No, you don't." She sat down stiffly, staring straight in front of her with terrifying fixity. The knuckles of her hands were strained and white with their grip on her bag.
"The reason you don't know how I feel is because you're married to him." Dora nodded toward the detective. She sounded as though she was honestly trying to make Phyllis understand. She went on flatly: "Joe and me was goin' to get married today."
Phyllis glanced down at the girl's swollen body in quick comprehension. She sank to her knees and caught Dora's hand in hers. "That's--oh, that's too terrible," she breathed.
Dora jerked her hand away with a violent gesture. "I ain't--I'm not wanting your sympathy. That don't help any. He sent Joe out there." Again she nodded toward Shayne, who was still standing in the background.
He moved forward while Phyllis sank back on the floor. He said, "That's right, Dora. I sent Joe out there. I'm not likely to forget that. I'm doing my best to make it up to him."
"How can you make it up? What can you do? What can anybody do? Joe's dead."
Shayne said, "I know. But you're going to have his child. Don't forget that, Dora."
"As if I could." Her voice rose shrilly. "It'll be tainted. Marked with murder--with a murder Joe didn't do." She was tensed and her eyes held a wild glitter in their depths. Thin white fingers played with the clasp on her bag. "Joe didn't do it. He didn't do what they say."
"Of course not," Phyllis soothed her. She reached forward to touch Dora's fingers. "Michael knows Joe didn't. He just told me so. He's after the real criminal right now. Everything will come out all right."
Dora blinked her eyes and looked down at Phyllis's shining dark head as though just becoming aware of her presence.
"He done it. It's your man's fault." She spoke slowly, as though it was by painful effort. "Joe trusted him, you know. It was him that got Joe to go straight and that's why he was--why we were so broke we couldn't get married. Las' night we were--happy, and thought everything was going to be just grand." She was silent. A tear trickled out of her left eye and down her cheek.
She blinked at the tear, staring down at Phyllis with feral intensity.
"'It ain't right," she said tonelessly. "It ain't fair. Other people having everything and me with nothing. Not even Joe. Not even a father for my baby." She threw Phyllis's hand away suddenly and her fingers dived into her shabby black bag.
Her hand came out clutching a tiny, stubby automatic and it was pointing upward at Shayne before he saw it.
Phyllis gasped and threw herself against the girl's legs as the automatic spurted flame. A bullet whizzed past the detective's face and buried itself in the ceiling.
Phyllis's hand closed over Dora's and she struggled with her for the weapon. Shayne stepped backward and watched them, amazement and pride fighting for precedence on his face.
His lips twitched in a broad grin when Phyllis settled back with the pistol in her possession while Dora slumped down sobbing.
"What are you grinning about?" Phyllis panted. "Why, you--she might have killed you."
"Not while I have such an able protector." He held out his hand. "Better give me that toy before it does some damage."
Reluctantly, Phyllis dropped the .25 into his palm. Then she got up and bent over Dora, patting her shaking shoulders and comforting her with low words.
Shayne went to a desk in the corner and dropped the pistol into a drawer. He went back and kissed Phyllis's hair and muttered, "You're pretty swell doings, angel. I'll leave you two gals to fight it out."
Tears were rolling down Phyllis's own cheeks when he went out and left them together.
* * * *
THE GHOST OF MURDER PAST
A horse-faced butler with solemn eyes Opened the Thrip door for Shayne. Before the detective could speak he murmured, "I beg your pardon, sir, but you are not perhaps aware there has been an--ah--tragedy here and I don't believe--"
"I'm fully aware of it," Shayne assured him pleasantly, pressing forward.
The butler gave way reluctantly, protesting, "Mr. Thrip is indisposed and has given strict orders that no one is to be admitted."
"He'll see me. But first I want to ask you a couple of questions about the man who was killed in your mistress's room last night. Did you admit him at five when he first came?"
"Yes, sir." The butler's long nose quivered and his watery eyes turned a paler blue. "I'll never forgive myself for not sending him about his business as I was tempted to do. I judged him to be a low criminal type but I knew Mr. Thrip was expecting a detective and I guessed immediately that the man belonged in that category. But my first impression proved correct, sir, and I shouldn't have allowed--"
"Exactly what did he say when he asked for Mr. Thrip?" Shayne broke in impatiently.
"He said he had an appointment--that a man named Shayne had sent him. As I have already reported to the police--"
"All right." Shayne cut him off. "So you took him to Thrip. What then?"
"I have no idea, sir. I'm sure I don't know what you mean nor why these questions should be directed at me." The man folded his aims with solemn dignity.
"I'm trying to find out who killed Mrs. Thrip," Shayne said bluntly. "If you're interested in helping, you'll answer my questions truthfully."
The butler's jaw sagged. Anger turned his gaunt cheeks a rosy hue. "I don't know who you are nor what right you have to question me."
"I'm Shayne," the detective growled. "And don't start accusing me of murder or I'll slough you one. I'm tired of getting the run-around."
The butler pulled the door open and pointed outside. "If I may suggest--"
"You may, and to hell with you." Shayne set himself solidly with his jaw jutting. "You'll either give me information or I'll beat it out of you."
"Y-yes, sir." The butler gulped. His Adam's apple slid up and down rapidly.
"Where did Thrip talk to Darnell--in which room?"
"In the library, sir."
"And it was the library window that was found open later in the night?"
Shayne said, "H-m-m."
"If I may say so, it is my theory that the criminal unlatched the window while he waited in there for Mr. Thrip to come down. I suggested that possibility to the police and they concurred heartily."
"You're a big help," Shayne muttered. "All right, let's get on from there. Did they go out of the library after their conference? Together, I mean."
"If my memory serves me right, Mr. Thrip showed the fellow over the upstairs, probably in the belief that the man could fulfill his duties more efficiently if he was acquainted--"
"Leave your conjectures out of it," Shayne snapped. "Was Mrs. Thrip at home when the man was here?"
"No, sir. She arrived some time later. She inquired about the man you were to send and appeared deeply gratified when I informed her the fellow had talked with Mr. Thrip earlier and had departed."
"Who locks up at night?"
"It is one of my duties, but Mr. Thrip is often in the library late and he allows me to retire without closing up in there."
"Is that what happened last night?"
"Yes, sir. Otherwise I would have tested all the windows and the tragedy might have been averted."
Shayne changed the subject abruptly, asking him about the other servants.
There were, it appeared, two maids, a cook, and the chauffeur besides the butler employed in the Thrip mansion. They all slept on the third floor and the butler said they had all retired about 11:30. The butler explained that the corps of servants was quite inadequate to the duties to be performed, and that they were usually tired and retired early. The servants were aware of a strain upon the household and it was impossible for them not to learn of existing conditions by a word overheard here and there. They were a little on edge and nervous, but they had been given to understand that there was a private detective guarding the house and all of them had slept more soundly than on any night since Mrs. Thrip began receiving the threatening notes.
After learning that Mr. Thrip had been left in the library, that Mrs. Thrip was in her bedroom, and that Dorothy and Ernst were out last night instead of "having a gang in the house," Shayne demanded to be taken to Mr. Thrip.
With a be-it-on-your-own-head look on his long face, the butler acquiesced and led Shayne up the stairs, past the closed door of the fatal room, and to a door standing ajar just beyond.
The man started to rap, but Shayne caught his arm and pulled it back when he heard Thrip talking to someone inside. Pushing the butler aside after a gesture commanding perfect quiet, Shayne opened the door silently and walked into a living-room connecting two bedrooms, a duplicate of the one across the hall between Dorothy and Ernst's rooms.
Thrip was talking over the telephone. He sat in a low chair with his back to the door. He wore a dressing-gown of black satin with yellow piping. Smoke curled up from a partly smoked cigar in an elaborate smoking-stand beside the chair. Moving silently forward on the thick rug, Shayne saw that the French phone was a jade color ornamented with gold.
"Why don't you come out in the open so that I can know what I'm fighting?" Thrip was saying irritatedly. "Your veiled threats mean nothing to me. I won't listen further to such nonsense. Reveal your identity and I'll deal with you."
Shayne was standing behind Thrip when he clicked the instrument on its prongs and turned to pick up his cigar.
It was as if Thrip felt rather than heard Shayne in the room. He turned, frowned, and demanded fretfully, "How did you get in and what do you mean by eavesdropping?"
"I'm a detective." Shayne's wide mouth curved in a sardonic grin. "I didn't want to interrupt your interesting conversation so I waited until you finished."
"You're well supplied with brazen effrontery, Shayne," the realtor observed bitingly. "After what took place in the next room last night I should think you'd hesitate to show your face in my house."
Shayne laughed shortly. He slouched down into a chair and lit a cigarette. "Granting that Darnell did choke your wife, you're as much to blame as I am, Thrip."
Thrip's face turned darkly florid. His underlip trembled like a pendulum gone out of control. "You'd better leave, Shayne. I don't propose to listen to your insults."
"I'm staying, and you'll listen to what I have to say." He crossed his long legs and settled his left arm comfortably. He took a deep puff from his cigarette, emitted smoke slowly, and said, "Don't forget that I know why Darnell was here--why he jimmied the window and--the reason for his coming upstairs at an early hour in the morning."
Thrip tucked his cigar into the pouch of his thick lips, took a deep puff before replying. "I've explained to the police and they're satisfied. You sent him in response to my request for a guard because of the threatening notes my wife had been receiving lately."
Shayne simulated amazement. "Is that the story you cooked up? I wondered how you were going to get around the truth."
"You will make matters very difficult for yourself if you contradict my story. You have no proof to the contrary and the police have the threatening notes." Thrip leaned back in the low chair. A long breath wheezed through his nostrils.
"You mean there actually were some notes?" Shayne leaned forward attentively.
"Of course. As I am prepared to take oath, I explained to you yesterday afternoon."
Their eyes met briefly. Thrip's were calmly triumphant.
Shayne's bushy red brows came down over half-closed gray eyes. He wondered whether Thrip knew of his wife's visit to his apartment yesterday.
"I begin to see your game," Shayne said slowly. "I suppose not even your wife knew the true reason for Darnell's presence here last night?"
"Naturally not." Thrip spoke with irritation. "A matter like that cannot be conducted without the utmost secrecy. Do you suppose my wife would have agreed to converting her jewels into cash? Not Leora. It made no difference to her that I needed a large sum of money desperately to swing a big deal."
Shayne leaned back comfortably and changed the position of his legs. "I'm just beginning to realize what a scoundrel you are, Thrip. You not only planned to defraud the insurance company, but also to steal your wife's jewels and make her think the robbery genuine. By God, I'm beginning to think you did have a perfect crime planned. Too bad an accident had to upset it."
"My wife," said Thrip coldly, "was mean and tyrannical. Since our marriage she has derived the most intense pleasure from being in a position to force me and my children to go to her for any sum of money beyond the inadequate allowances she grudgingly doled out. Not only was I refused the appointment as administrator of her deceased father's estate, but she humiliated me by keeping control of every dollar of the income in her own hands."
"It was her money," Shayne snapped.
Thrip sat back in his chair looking straight ahead.
Shayne studied his pudgy face. He could clearly imagine the obsession the man had built up through the years into a persecution complex. Thrip honestly felt he had grounds for righteous indignation at being refused control of his wife's property. To such a man, Shayne cogitated, and with such a grievance, a plan to defraud both his wife and an insurance company would appear both reasonable and just.
Shayne lit another cigarette and nodded as if in response to his deductions. "All right," he said, "I get the picture. I don't know that I blame you for taking steps. And I don't blame you for keeping the truth concealed when things turned out as they did. As a matter of fact, it wouldn't help my position any if it came out that I was conniving with you to pull a fake robbery of your wife's jewels. Don't worry about me talking out of turn. But what about those threatening notes you mention? Where are they?"
"I turned them over to Mr. Painter this morning. There were three of them, threatening bodily harm to Leora unless she agreed to pay a hundred thousand dollars to the writer."
"Anonymous?" Shayne asked casually.
"They were unsigned. She was directed to indicate her willingness to pay the sum demanded by placing an advertisement in the personal column of a newspaper."
"And she didn't do this?"
"She refused. As I have explained, my wife was not one to part with money easily. She pretended to dismiss the notes as the work of a harmless crank at first. Later she admitted she was worried and suggested we place the matter in the hands of a private detective. I confess my nervousness yesterday when she came to my office unexpectedly, but fortunately she spoke in such vague terms that you remained deceived." There was a note of gratification in Thrip's voice as though he preened himself on his cleverness in deception.
There was a short silence during which Shayne stared at the floor and Thrip stared straight ahead. Then, as if speaking to himself, Thrip muttered, "I shan't pretend any great grief over my wife's death, but it is a pity she had to die in such a brutal manner."
Shayne's eyes grew keen for an instant, but he was staring thoughtfully at the floor again when he said, "You say she pretended to dismiss the notes as the work of a crank at first. Do you imply that there was more to them than that--and she knew there was--she knew whom they were from?"
"I do imply exactly that. I feel morally certain she knew the identity of the author of the notes from the first. Guessing the authorship of the notes myself, I felt she was in grave danger, but when she refused to consider the consequences of disregarding the threats I considered myself absolved of all responsibility in the matter."
"Hoping perhaps," Shayne said with sharp irony, "that she would get bumped off so you could get your hands on her money."
"I resent that, Mr. Shayne." The realtor arose, his face purpling with wrath. "I see no reason why I should allow you to insult me. Your status in my house is that of an unwelcome intruder."
Shayne didn't move. His long legs were stretched out in front of him and his eyes were fixed on the toes of his number twelves. "I'm staying, Thrip. Sit down and stop swallowing your goozle. You're not going to deny, are you, that her money comes to you and your children?"
Arnold Thrip fidgeted indecisively, then sat down on the extreme edge of his chair. "As to that, it will be a matter of common knowledge when Leora's will is probated that half of her fortune comes to us."
Shayne lifted his gaze sharply. "And the other half?"
"I can't see that it's any of your business," Thrip said, "but her brother, Buell Renslow, will receive half of the estate. As a matter of fact, Leora's entire portion of the fortune comes to us--half of her father's estate. For years she has enjoyed the use of the income from the entire estate, but there was a provision in her father's will providing that one-half should go to her brother upon her death--or be held in trust for him until his release from the penitentiary to which he was sentenced twenty-five years ago for murder."
Shayne snapped from his moodiness with a start of surprise. "You'd better start at the beginning and tell it straight through."
Thrip stuck a dead cigar in the little pouch he made of his lips, drew ineffectually, laid the cigar on the stand. He turned a little toward Shayne. "I can't see that it is any concern of yours," he said with conscious dignity.
Shayne's half-closed eyes were brilliant. "Murder has been committed, Mr. Thrip," he said in a low tone. "You and your children are involved. You might be doing yourself a favor to come clean with me."
Thrip took a fresh cigar from a humidor on the stand, lit it, blew a puff of smoke ceilingward. "It is a brief though sordid story. You can understand my hesitancy in speaking of it. I have a standing in the community to maintain." "Well?" Shayne said impatiently. "Two years before I married Leora, her only brother killed a man in a drunken brawl in a western mining camp. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and the disgrace of it hastened his father's death. His father had taken millions in gold from a Colorado mine. His will stipulated that his entire fortune should be inherited by his daughter for her use as she saw fit during her lifetime, but in the event of her death, one-half of her estate should be set aside as a trust for the brother in the unlikely event that he redeemed himself and made a good enough record in the penitentiary to receive a pardon. If he should he pardoned before her death, he was to receive the income from one-half of the estate until her death. Buell Renslow was pardoned from the penitentiary two months ago."
Thrip paused to puff on the cigar which had accumulated a long gray ash. He flipped the ash off carefully, glanced at Shayne's impassive face, and continued:
"Renslow came here to Miami immediately after being released, and contacted his sister. He demanded that she turn over to him the money that would legally become his upon her death. Leora, being of the grasping nature I have described to you, refused his request. She instructed attorneys to pay over to him the income every month and refused to see him after that first occasion. Two weeks later, the first threatening note arrived. I am positive it was written by her ex-convict brother, but he has never been discussed between us, and neither of us mentioned our belief that he wrote the notes. I am positive, however, that she knew they could come only from Buell Renslow."
Shayne listened with fixed attention during the last part of the recital. Not by look or gesture did he indicate that he knew of the notes from Leora Thrip's own lips.
He nodded and muttered, "Then this Buell will actually benefit by his sister's death?"
"Of course. To the tune of more than a million dollars. If her death had come about under any other circumstances, Mr. Shayne, I should not hesitate to suspect her brother of the crime."
"You mean--if you hadn't caught the killer in the act and knew it couldn't be Renslow?"
"Yes. That's what I mean."
"But he wouldn't have access to the house," Shayne argued. "He couldn't have got into her room."
Thrip looked at him in astonishment. "You are overly trusting for an efficient detective, Mr. Shayne, to put it mildly. A man like that, who has consorted with criminals for years, could easily get an impression of a lock and have a locksmith make a key to fit it. He might even bribe a servant to leave a window unlatched." His eyes were bulging at Shayne. He held the detective's gaze steadily until he turned to contemplate his cigar.
"I--see," Shayne said. He shrugged and asked, "What about the jewel case? I didn't see it when I was called in last night. And Darnell didn't have a thousand-dollar bill on him--according to police reports."
There was a red glow on Thrip's cigar. "Why, he evidently had gone to my wife's bed before looking for the case. A man like Darnell wouldn't be likely to think of money while contemplating such--such a crime as he committed. At any rate, the case was on the vanity with the bill inside when I called the police. Naturally, I removed it before they arrived."
"Naturally," Shayne muttered.
"Quite naturally," Thrip agreed smugly.
"What about your daughter's friend, Carl Meldrum?" Shayne shot out. "I understand he brought her home late last night."
"Meldrum? What about him?" Thrip appeared blandly disinterested in Meldrum.
"That's what I'm asking you. What sort of an egg is he?"
"I know nothing against him. He appears to have money, also breeding and social position."
Shayne said, "U-m-m. One more question, Mr. Thrip." He was tugging at the lobe of his left ear with right thumb and forefinger. "Who was the last person to see your wife alive--and at what time?"
Thrip fidgeted in his chair. His bulging eyes were cold, his manner plainly irritated. "The police definitely established that last night. Dorothy stopped and spoke to her mother on her way up to her room at one-thirty."
Shayne nodded decisively and got to his feet. "You wouldn't have any idea where I could reach Buell Renslow?"
"None whatever. He hasn't put in an appearance here since that first visit after his release from prison about two months ago."
"Do either of your children know about him?"
"Only vaguely. I'm sure neither of them knows he has been pardoned and is in Miami."
Shayne thanked him and went out the door. He hurried down the stairs. Out in the fresh salt-tanged air he filled his lungs deeply on the way to his car. He drove back to Miami and to police headquarters where he went directly to the private office of his old friend, Will Gentry, Miami detective chief.
* * * *
A DIFFERENT ANGLE
Will Gentry was a solid, square-jawed man of fifty. He was issuing orders to two plain-clothes men when Shayne pushed the door open and walked in. He squinched grizzled eyebrows at the redhead and ended the interview with his subordinates by growling:
"Bring them both in and I don't give a damn how you do it. Mother of God, do I have to draw you a picture for every pinch I want made?"
The officers saluted stiffly and went out. Gentry chewed on the butt of a sodden cigar and tried ineffectually to light it. After the third attempt he hurled it at a shiny spittoon in one corner. It plopped wetly inside. He hunched his big body forward and rumbled:
"Well, Mike, you seem to have sewed yourself up in a sack this time."
Shayne nodded and with one toe dragged up a chair. He draped his angular body into it in front of the chief's scarred desk and agreed, "It looks that way, Will."
Gentry frowned and his blunt fingers fiddled with a fountain pen lying in front of him. "Painter was in here not more than half an hour ago. He had a book-length telegram he was sending the governor. He wanted my signature on it along with the heads of the Ministerial Alliance and the Civic Betterment League. It pointed out no uncertain terms that your continued presence in our midst with a private dick's license was a menace to all the laws in the statutes and to the lives of our law-biding citizens."
Shayne lit a cigarette and blew smoke across the scarred surface of Gentry's desk. "Did you sign it?"
Shayne said, "Thanks, Will."
There was a short silence between them, broken by Gentry's fist thudding down on the desk. "Damn it, Mike. I've known you more than ten years. You're bullheaded and reckless and hell-on-wheels when you get mad and you've never given a hang for what anybody thought and you've got away with everything but murder in this man's town, but this time you're washed up if you don't pull one out of the hat quick."
"Hell, yes. Painter's got you over a barrel. This isn't something local that we can hush up. When a private detective murders the client he is hired to protect--that makes headlines from Baltimore to Frisco. It's like the old one about the man biting the dog. The governor's going to grab your license so fast it'll make your head spin around."
Michael Shayne nodded wearily. "I've added it up to the same answer. So, I guess it's up to me to pull one out of the hat, and I may use Painter's Panama."
Gentry shot him a piercing glance. He stopped fiddling with the fountain pen and pulled a blunt black cigar from his vest pocket. Worrying the end of it with his teeth, he grunted, "What's the straight of it, Mike?"
"You knew Joe Darnell? Hasn't he been going straight since he did that rap for housebreaking?"
"Maybe. But he was pretty hard up. The way it looks to me is that Joe was casing the joint looking for what he could pick up and the lady hears him and sets up a squawk. Joe jumps her and puts on a little too much pressure."
"That's the way it reads," Shayne admitted grimly. "The papers are making the mistake of listening to Painter, as usual. Joe wasn't on the prowl. He went in on a ready-made lay--planted and primed for him. He wasn't worried about any squawk. He was expecting some slight interference to make it look good when the insurance investigators checked up on the missing loot. He wouldn't have jumped the woman. He didn't."
"The hell you say." Gentry's mouth fell open and he held the cigar half an inch from it. "Then those notes--all that stuff about him guarding the joint for you--is all at phony?"
"There were notes all right--blackmail--but the rest of the setup is phony as hell. But I can't prove a word of it. My only out is to turn up the real murderer--Joe's murderer too, by the way, since he swallowed a slug on account of Thrip triggering in a hurry without taking time for questions when he saw his wife stretched out stiff and Joe in the room."
Gentry's graying head bobbed up and down. "I knew it had to be something like that. Anything I can do, Mike?"
"I don't know," Shayne told him truthfully. "I'm following two or three leads. Joe could tell us a lot if he could talk. He'd know who went in and came out. You can do this, Will. Every visitor with a criminal record is supposed to register when he hits town. See if a Buell Renslow, pardoned lifer from Colorado, is on your list. He probably isn't because that's just another goofy law you can't enforce."
"Probably not but we'll see," Gentry agreed amiably. He flipped the switch on an interoffice communicator on his desk and gave an order.
"And I'd like to locate a Mona Tabor who gives a Little River post-office box as her address"--Shayne waited while Gentry made a note of it--"and dig up anything you can on Carl Meldrum at the Palace Hotel on the beach," he ended.
A buzzer sounded. The chief said, "Shoot," into a phone and listened a minute. He shook his head at Shayne. "Nothing on your ex-con."
"Then wire Colorado for his mug and prints. And circulate the word among your stoolies that he's wanted. He shouldn't be hard to pick up if he runs true to form. Another angle will be Mrs. Thrip's lawyers. They've been paying out monthly sums to Renslow. You might tackle them officially."
Gentry was scribbling notations on a pad. He grunted with surprise and looked up at the detective. "What's the connection? How does the con figure?"
"Mrs. Thrip's brother," Shayne told him briefly. "I'd like to know where he was between one-thirty and two last night. He made something like a million during that half hour."
Gentry made his lips into a big O and permitted a whistle to escape him. "Nice work if you can get it. Better than a cop drags down."
"Or a private dick." Shayne stood up, tangling his coarse red hair. "Will you hop onto that stuff, Will? And phone any dope over to me. I've got one call to make before I land back at my apartment."
Gentry said, "You bet," and lifted his heavy hand in farewell as Shayne went out.
The detective's roadster was parked against the curb outside headquarters where it was marked No Parking--Police. He got in and pulled up to the traffic light on Flagler, waited for it to change, and turned east past the Dade County courthouse.
In front of the First National Bank on the corner of Flagler and Northeast First Avenue he parked in the space reserved for armored cars and went in to cash Leora Thrip's check into a sheaf of twenties.
Shayne's next stop was the Miami Daily News tower on Biscayne Boulevard. He went up to the noisy, smoke-filled city room just before press time and found Timothy Rourke relaxed in front of a littered desk in a corner overlooking the bay.
Rourke looked up and waggled a finger at Shayne with portentous gravity. "Naughty, naughty, Michael. There's an old Hindu proverb that says, He who playeth with fire shall someday find himself in the middle of a mighty conflagration."
Shayne nodded soberly, pushed back some papers to slouch down on a corner of the reporter's desk. "That's rank plagiarism on the Chinese. What's your first-edition headline, Tim?"
"Hot off Petie Painter's platter. Revocation of Shayne's License Demanded. And it's subbed: An indignant citizenry rallied solidly behind police authorities and civic leaders this morning to press demands upon the governor that Michael Shayne's authority to prey upon innocent victims be annulled at once," Rourke quoted gravely, "or words to that effect." He grinned cheerfully and offered Shayne a cigarette.
Shayne shook his head. "So you boys are convicting me without a trial."
"A trial? What the hell, Mike? Isn't it open and shut? You don't deny Darnell was working for you, do you?"
"It wouldn't do me any good to deny that," Shayne admitted. "The catch is, Tim, Darnell didn't choke the dame."
"Wh-a-a-t?" Rourke choked over a windpipeful of smoke.
"He didn't," Shayne said with a driving intensity that riveted all of Rourke's attention. "I've given you stuff in the past," Shayne went on harshly, "and you've made money by listening to me. The Herald nailed me to the cross on Painter's say-so this morning. Why don't you guys try printing the truth?"
Rourke's flaring nostrils quivered like a hound's on the scent. "Good God, Mike! Have you got any proof?" He was reaching for a wad of copy paper and a pencil.
"Not a damn bit. But I'm telling you. You can quote me, can't you? Do you think I'm taking this lying down? Joe Darnell didn't kill Mrs. Thrip. Painter's willing to let it lie that way because he hasn't got brains enough to catch the real murderer and because it harpoons me."
"But what about Thrip? If Darnell didn't kill Mrs. Thrip what reason did Thrip have for killing Darnell?"
"Plenty of reason," Shayne insisted. "Breaking and entering. Hell, I'm not blaming Thrip. His story is straight enough. He did what any man would do under the circumstances. My quarrel is with his interpretation of what he saw when he turned on the light. I'm working on the theory that Mrs. Thrip was dead before Joe Darnell entered her bedroom."
Rourke's keen eyes dulled as Shayne spoke. "That's not like you, Mike," he observed absently. "This is the first time you ever blatted out a theory for publication. I thought you left that angle for the Painters."
"I'm working on this with two strikes on me before I come to bat," Shayne explained. "I want the murderer to know I'm on his tail. I've got to smoke something out, Tim. There are so damned many angles--" He paused, shook his head gloomily, then asked, "Well, Tim?"
"It's a story," Rourke told him. "Right or wrong, it's a different angle."
"Play it like it was right and you won't regret it," Shayne assured him. He slid off Rourke's desk and barged out of the smoke-fouled room to the elevator.
Out on the street, he strolled leisurely to his car, got in, and drove to his hotel. Going through the lobby, he saw that the clerk had observed his entrance but was studiously pretending to be looking elsewhere in the evident hope that Shayne would go on up without stopping.
Shayne's heels thudded across the tiled floor. He stopped in front of the desk. "Anything for me, Jim?" he asked pleasantly. "You know, Michael Shayne," he added as the young man jerked around with a show of surprise.
"Oh, yes. Sure, Mr. Shayne. Of course, I know--ha-ha--there isn't anything in your box this time."
"Don't believe everything you see in the newspapers," Shayne admonished. He turned to the elevator and the clerk gaped alter him, rubbing his diminutive chin with shaking fingers.
Shayne knocked on the door of his apartment, a gay rat ta-tat-tat--tat-tat which would tell Phyllis that it was himself coming home. When the knock was not answered he opened the door with a key. He called, "Phyl--hey, Phyl," but the call was echoed back by silence from the four empty rooms.
He made a quick survey of the apartment in frowning perplexity and when no playful hiding-place revealed her presence he came back to the living-room and opened the liquor cabinet.
The note from Phyllis was balanced on top of a half-full cognac bottle. He poured himself a drink while he read her hurried scrawl:
Darling--after seeing that girl I just couldn't sit here and do nothing. I won't tell you where I've gone because you'd disapprove, though I'm really quite capable of looking after myself. If I'm lucky I'll come back with some good news.
Your own Angel.
He read the note for the fifth time, then crumpled it up viciously. He didn't say anything out loud, but his eyes were harried slits. Then for the first time his gaze slid down from the signature, Your own Angel, and saw Dora's address scribbled in a postscript.
Hastily he opened the table drawer and scrambled in it, hunting for Dora's pistol. The .25 automatic was gone.
His blunt, bony fingers drummed against the desk-top for a moment, then he got up and carried the bottle and glass to the center table and set them down, went aimlessly into the kitchen as though his legs were carrying him from force of habit rather than by conscious motivation.
He put ice cubes in a tall goblet and filled it from the faucet, stalked back into the living-room and placed it beside the cognac bottle.
He paced around the room briefly, lit a cigarette, sat down at the table, filled his glass and sat staring at it. With an angry gesture he tossed it off. He said aloud, very gently, "You shouldn't have done that, Phyl."
He refilled his glass, splashing some of the liquor on the back of his hand. He set it down, untouched, and got up.
In the bedroom he called the Palace Hotel and asked for Carl Meldrum. He stood on widely spread legs, jaws clamped, listening to the phone ring echo hollowly over the wire, then asked the hotel switchboard to connect him with the room clerk on duty.
The room clerk reported that Mr. Meldrum was not in, that a young lady had called for him not long ago and they had gone out together. Upon close questioning, the clerk described Phyllis in flattering detail. Shayne thanked him and hung up.
With his left ear lobe clutched between thumb and forefinger he stared moodily around the room, then went back to the living-room.
At the desk he found a long envelope and a sheet of heavy note paper. He wrapped the sheaf of fifty twenty-dollar bills which he had secured from the bank in the note paper, placed them carefully in the long envelope, went outside and dropped them in the mail chute after addressing the envelope to Mrs. Dora Darnell at the address on Phyllis's note.
Then he came back and took up his vigil with the bottle of cognac and glass of ice water.
* * * *
It was shortly past noon of a morning that had seemed endless when the telephone rang in the bedroom of the Shayne apartment. The sound rasped spitefully through the stillness, buzzing in his ears like a hornet, penetrating the fog hugging his senses as he slumped in his chair before the center table in the living-room.
He lurched upright and steadied himself with one hand on the table. His eyes were bloodshot, his face bleak and expressionless. An empty cognac bottle lay on its side on the floor. Another, holding two-thirds of its original contents, sat on the table. The ice-water goblet was empty except for the remains of two ice cubes in the bottom. For the past half hour he hadn't been bothering with chasers.
The telephone kept on ringing. Shayne walked into the bedroom with flat-footed carefulness, swaying a trifle but otherwise apparently sober. He lifted the phone and said, "Shayne," into the mouthpiece.
Will Gentry's voice answered him: "I've located the Tabor woman, Mike. She has an apartment in Little River." He gave the address.
Shayne said, "Check, Will."
"She works as a hostess in that classy Tally-Ho dump north of Little River," the detective chief went on. "It's beyond the city limits and we don't pay much attention to what goes on there but none of it is very good. And here's something you may want: Your Carl Meldrum hangs out at the Tally-Ho a lot."
Shayne asked, "What else have you turned up on Meldrum?"
"Damn little. He pays his hotel bill and sleeps there once in a while. He's got half a dozen dames on the string, including the Thrip girl. From rumors, he may be on the junk or maybe he just feeds it to his women to loosen them up. No dope on Renslow. I've wired Colorado and I'm still trying to get touch with the Renslow estate lawyers."
Shayne said, "Thanks, Will. Keep on trying." He paused, then asked throatily with a hint of anxiety telling in his voice, "You haven't got a tail on Meldrum, have you?"
"No. I sent a man over after you left but Meldrum had gone out with some frail. Not one of his regulars, according to the hotel help, but the way she was hanging onto him they guessed she would be before the day was over."
Shayne said, "Thanks," again and hung up. His hand stayed on the telephone while he looked broodingly down at the unmade bed. The covers were thrown back from Phyllis's side and her pillow still held the dent her head had made. The red pajamas were tossed over the foot of the bed. Shayne took two long steps forward and stooped to touch the pajamas with the tips of his fingers. He shook his head and laughed for his own benefit. The laugh was directed at one Michael Shayne, hard-boiled private dick who refused to let life touch him. The laugh ended in a deep gurgle in his throat.
After a while he went out of the bedroom and closed the door behind him. He got his hat and coat and slid the bottle of cognac into his pocket, then went down in the elevator, stalked through the lobby, and got in his car to drive north to Little River.
At the suburban section at Seventy-Ninth Street and Northeast Second Avenue he turned north on the avenue and drove slowly past two blocks of business buildings. Mona Tabor's apartment house was on a side street half a block from the avenue, a neat three-story stucco building with an impregnable atmosphere of respectability, set back in the middle of a lawn. Gaily striped garden chairs in palm-shaded spots about the lawn were occupied by lounging groups of young and middle-aged women in slacks or shorts who were keeping negligent eyes on their sun suited youngsters playing on the grass in the bright sunlight.
Shayne parked just beyond a wide concrete walk and got out stiffly. He dragged the brim of his hat down against the sun's glare and went up the walk toward the entrance. The chattering of the women on the grounds stopped and he knew they were watching him, sizing him up with the universal interest of bored matrons. He walked on into the coolness of a large, comfortable lobby green with potted palms, straight past the desk to an elevator in the rear. A Negro operator wearing a red pillbox hat slid the door shut behind Shayne and looked at him questioningly with black pupils swimming in white orbs.
Shayne said, "Miss Mona Tabor," and curiosity flicked in the lad's comical eyes, went away when Shayne stared at him with hard blankness. The boy manipulated the lever and the elevator rose smoothly to the third floor. He opened the door and gestured down a wide hall to the right. "Down yonduh, suh, at th'ee-o-six, but I don' reckon Miss Mona done got up yit."
Shayne got out without replying and went to the end of the hall, where he stopped in front of 306. The elevator door did not close until he knocked, but he did not look back to see the curious black and white eyes watching him. He waited for the silence in upper hall and room to be broken by footsteps coming toward the door.
The silence continued. He tried the knob and it wouldn't turn under his hand. He knocked louder and more authoritatively and waited again. He took a drink from the cognac bottle and his eyes became brighter.
He knocked twice again before he heard the sound of heels clacking on the floor inside. He kept on waiting and presently the door opened inward a few inches.
He put his shoulder against the door and went in past a woman wearing a rich red and yellow silk kimono of Oriental design who was pushed back by the opening of the door but who made no great effort to hold it against him.
Little light filtered into the living-room past the drawn curtains of two wide south windows. The atmosphere was heavy with the sweetish odor of perfume or incense, overlaid with a peculiar scent that was irritatingly familiar to the detective but one which he couldn't immediately name.
He strode directly across the room and drew back one of the draperies, then lifted the window to let in fresh air.
Mona Tabor was closing the door as he turned back from the opened window. She was a tall woman with a willowy grace which bespoke firm flesh and inward poise. She looked an assured thirty-five and there was a hint that some of her earlier years might have been tough ones. She wore no make-up on her strong regular features but there was deep natural color that tinted her smooth cheeks, and full lips took color from the flaming crimson of her robe. Coppery hair was brushed directly back from a wide, smooth forehead and the same metallic glint showed in thick eyebrows and long lashes above the brown eyes which calmly appraised this intruder.
Shayne took off his hat before her cool appraisal and rubbed a calloused hand over his coarse red hair, waiting for her to speak.
She didn't say anything. Her attitude was wary though not hostile. She stood facing him with an impersonal directness which simply questioned his presence.
Shayne grinned disarmingly after a time and said, "You're okay, sweetheart." He lounged down on a padded window seat and tossed his hat on a brocaded divan.
Mona's left shoulder lifted slightly and her lips curved in a not unfriendly smile. She said, "Maybe you are too," her gaze catching the reflected flame of sunlight on his red hair. She added, "Maybe not," as an afterthought and moved across to the divan.
When she sat down, Shayne saw that she was short waisted with a pair of the longest legs he had ever seen.
She leaned back gracefully, letting her head lie so that chest muscles lifted high breasts against the silken fabric. She looked down her straight, nice-sized nose at Shayne with a hint of mockery in her eyes.
Shayne held her gaze unwaveringly. He said, "I'm okay, all right. I'm a friend of Carl's."
She showed no sign of being impressed. Her expression did not change when she said, "That doesn't prove a damned thing."
Shayne asked, "Doesn't it?" He was digging in his pocket for a cigarette and he looked away. When he got the pack out she was holding flame-tipped fingers toward him.
Shayne stuck a cigarette in his mouth and shook another from the pack for her. She didn't move and he had to take three steps to give it to her. She looked up searchingly into his face while he lit a match and held the flame to her cigarette.
Her brown eyes were slumbrous, conveying the same hint of passion in repose that her body and position cried out. There was no odor of perfume about her, and Shayne liked that, but her parted lips exuded that half-familiar scent he had noticed strongly when entering the room.
He took a step backward to light his own cigarette and her gaze lingered on the strong, harsh lines of his face. She patted the divan beside her. "It's more comfortable here than by the window."
Shayne shook his head and muttered. "Thanks." He retreated to the safer position and sat down, reminding her, "I told you I was a friend of Carl's."
She said, "How nice." Her tone was mocking, and it was as though claws had been momentarily unsheathed.
Shayne knew that she was a dangerous woman. Dangerous as hell. An intelligent woman with no scruples. A woman who could easily destroy a man. He recognized the tantalizingly familiar odor from her lips now. It was the strong unnerving smell of absinthe, and he knew now that Meldrum had been under the influence of the green stuff that morning.
He drew the cognac bottle from his pocket and worried the cork with his teeth while she watched. Perfunctorily, he asked, "Have a drink?" then tipped it to his mouth when she shook her copper-colored head as he had known she would.
The drink steadied him. He set the open bottle on the floor beside him and growled, "Carl sent me to get things straight with you. You know the spot he's in."
She didn't reply. A tawny glint came into her eyes and went away while she waited for him to go on. She took a deep drag on her cigarette and smoke flowed smoothly out of her nostrils. She was as quiescent and as dangerous as a sulking tigress.
"You know all about it," Shayne insisted. "He told me you were fixing him an out for last night."
Mona Tabor's tongue came out and wet the outer surface of her lips. She said, "Then he hasn't anything to worry about, has he?"
"He sent me over to get the whole thing straight. So there won't be any mix-up in the stories you and he tell the cops."
"You're lying, redhead." She said it without rancor. "I don't know what your game is but there's something about you that does things to me--if you know what I mean and I'm damned sure you can guess in three tries." She was languorous, her words were faintly slurred, and the tawny glint was in her eyes again. They were not so dark a brown as he had thought at first.
Shayne shook his head impatiently. "That sort of thing isn't going to get us anywhere. What I want--"
"I can make you want me, redhead." She made no physical movement.
"You're not guessing," he agreed harshly. Sweat was standing on his forehead. He stared across the room at the wall, which he discovered was stippled in rose and blue and yellow. His hand groped for the bottle beside him. He lifted it and drank and there was perfect silence in the room.
Shayne broke the silence. "I'm a married man," he said.
"I'm married, too, but I'm not working at it right now."
"I'm told it lasts longer that way," Shayne said, "but right now I'm working at it."
"You're the kind that would be," Mona Tabor agreed with an undertone of bitterness.
He turned his head slowly to look at her. She had not moved a muscle of her relaxed body, yet beneath the surface tension was apparent to his wary scrutiny.
"You're going to come over here close to me in a minute," she told him. "You can't help yourself, redhead. We haven't anything to do with it. Neither of us. I think we'll get drunk together. God! I love getting drunk in the daytime. You know what I mean--drunk!"
Shayne crossed his knees and stared down at the tips of his big shoes. He could get everything out of Mona if he went at it right. Less than three weeks ago he would have seen his job clearly and worked at it.
He lurched to his feet, grabbing his cognac bottle by the neck. "Yeh, I know what you mean," he repeated thickly, "but I've got to see a dog about a man."
"Not until you've had a drink with me, redhead. Just one drink and then you won't care whether you ever see a dog or a man either."
She was standing close to him, body muscles curved beneath the clinging silk of her robe. He dragged his eyes away from them, set his jaws hard.
She nodded triumphantly and moved away in a long limbed stride. Shayne watched her go into an inner room and presently she reappeared with a small liqueur bottle[ ]and two gold-rimmed glasses. He watched her pour green absinthe into one glass and strode forward to put a big hand over the other glass to stop her from filling it.
"I'll stick with my own brand," he said, dangling the bottle before her eyes. "And before you take that drink you'd better tell me what I should say to Carl."
"Damn Carl," she said. She caught his wrist to pull his hand away. He gripped the glass tight enough to crush the fragile rim. The pieces dropped to the floor. Shayne looked down at blood oozing from his palm. He was too drunk to cope with this sort of thing, and he knew it.
Laughter gurgled up in Mona Tabor's throat; she pushed her body against him and took a sip of absinthe while her wide eyes looked into his speculatively over the tilted rim.
He muttered, "I'm sorry but I've still got to see a man, and started for the door in long strides.
She didn't move to stop him. He was sure she expected him to stop of his own accord.
He didn't. He was reaching for the doorknob when a knock sounded outside.
She cried, "No," from behind him as he kept on reaching and got hold of the knob. With his hand grasping it he turned to glance at her over his shoulder.
She came to him shaking her coppery head, holding one crimson-tipped finger to her lips as the knock came again. "Don't open it," she whispered. "Whoever it is will go away. For God's sake, redhead--"
He laughed down into her face from which self-assurance had vanished; fright was in its place. He turned the knob sharply, pulling the night-latched door wide open. The woman behind him cut short an angry remonstrance, then pressed close to Shayne as if for protection, sliding arm about his neck. They stood like that, looking out at the tall, white-haired man who stood outside.
The man's face was lined and weary. His deep-set eyes were haunted with tragedy. Shayne judged him to be bout fifty. He was neatly dressed in flannels and a double-breasted coat with a soft shirt and a blue tie.
He stood solidly outside the threshold without making any move to enter, as if politely awaiting an invitation. His eyes studied Mona, then flickered upward to Shayne's face.
He made no faintest show of recognition, but Shayne had a singular feeling of being recognized. The white-haired man carried a folded newspaper in his left hand, and as he looked at the detective he unobtrusively slid his right hand into the side pocket of his coat.
Shayne's wide mouth twisted into a sour grin. He gave Mona a little push that sent her away from him, and said, "Come on in. I'm just leaving."
The white-haired man said, "No, you're not leaving," scarcely moving his colorless lips but articulating with astonishing clarity. His right hand was bunched in his coat pocket and he leaned from the waist slightly, looking from Shayne to Mona and demanding:
"What are you trying to pull, anyway? I guess I wouldn't have known he had been here if I hadn't happened to run into him."
"Well, what of it?" Mona Tabor's voice was throaty with anger.
"You know what I'm talking about. Don't try to--" "Look," Shayne interrupted affably, "if you're pimping for her, don't get any wrong ideas. She's not holding out."
"Keep your mouth out of this." The man drew a short, big-muzzled gun from his pocket. He held it carelessly, pointed at Shayne's guts where it would do the most harm if it went off. His voice was gentle with that same absence of lip movement which Shayne had first noted, the words seeming to come from a point a foot or more in front of his mouth.
Shayne's eyes narrowed and he took a step backward. He knew that brand of talk. The bartender--at the Cat's Whiskers on Flagler Street--Joe Darnell--when others might be listening. A clever stunt learned in stir when the screws don't permit convicts to carry on conversation openly.
Shayne decided that he wasn't in as great a hurry to leave Mona Tabor's apartment as he had first thought.
Mona laughed scornfully behind Shayne. "Don't mind Buell," she advised him. "He has no strings on me. I do what I please and--"
"Shut up," said the white-haired man. He came through the door holding the pistol in front of him.
Mona said, "Nuts," and moved back to the divan, where she slumped down and reached for her glass of absinthe.
Shayne kept his hands in sight and watched the man close the door firmly so that it latched. The folded newspaper which he carried was the latest edition of the Miami Daily News. Shayne had a hunch it carried the story he had given Timothy Rourke that morning.
From the divan, Mona spoke in a voice that dripped venom, "I don't know what you think it's going to get you to push in here flashing a rod. I'll put the cops on you and--"
"You won't put anybody on me any more than you maybe have already. I'm staying and this rod is staying until I find out what you've spilled to this copper."
Shayne backed up toward the window seat while the man advanced. Mona sat erect and mumbled, "Copper? I don't believe--"
"No? Didn't you see this morning's extra with his mug spread all over the front page? This guy is Michael Shayne. Take a gander at this story in the News"--he tossed the folded newspaper into her lap--"and see if you still think he just came here to give himself a good time!"
He turned to Shayne. His face darkened when he said, "Looking for a fall guy to take the rap for you, huh? All right. Just so you don't make the mistake of trying to make a sucker out of me."
Shayne backed up to the window seat and lowered himself onto it carefully, placing his hands on his knees. He nodded. "It's your party, Renslow, but you'd better go easy on that trigger. Remember you've already done one long stretch for murder."
The change which came over the ex-convict's face was sudden and terrifying. The prison gray appeared to cover the two months' tan of Florida sunshine. There was a trapped-animal viciousness in his pale eyes, a dangerous red.
"I'm not forgetting," he gritted. "No smart dick is hanging the rap on me this time. Not if I have to mess up Mona's rug with your guts to stay in the clear."
* * * *
PORTRAITS FOR A FRAME-UP
"Spilling my guts on Mona's rug wouldn't be such a smart way out for you," Shayne told him. "Why don't you put that gat away and start making sense?"
"This gat makes sense to me." Buell Renslow sat down in a chair facing both of them, balancing the heavy weapon across his thigh so the big bore covered the detective. His features were no longer twisted with anger but his blue eyes were those of a man goaded to desperation.
Mona was rustling the late edition of the News which Renslow had tossed over to her. In a wondering voice she read aloud:
"Private Detective Denies Darnell Guilt. In an exclude interview with a representative of the Miami Daily News today, Michael Shayne, ace private investigator. struck back at his critics with a blanket denial that Joe Darnell was in any way responsible for the murder of Mrs. Leora Thrip early this morning.
"Under fire by police authorities and civic leaders, facing the loss of his license and the charge of accessory before the fact in the brutal strangulation slaying of a prominent Miami Beach matron, Shayne threw a bombshell by publicly branding the charge merely a frame-up to disgrace him and cover police inefficiency and inability to solve the case and turn up the actual murderer.
"'The convenient death of Darnell at the hands of the outraged husband provided Peter Painter with a perfect victim and solution,' the fiery detective Michael Shayne pointed out to this reporter today. 'Peter Painter hasn't looked further because he doesn't want to turn up any evidence pointing to another murderer and absolving Darnell. For months he has been endeavoring to drive me out of Miami and he sees this case as the perfect setup to accomplish that purpose.
"'Only the thinnest thread of circumstantial evidence actually links Darnell with the murder of Mrs. Thrip' Shayne points out. 'Undoubtedly, Darnell heard something suspicious in the upstairs bedroom and crept up to investigate. By an unfortunate coincidence, Mr. Thrip heard the same sound and investigated at the same time. Coming suddenly upon an intruder in his wife's bedroom and seeing her lying dead, Thrip's immediate and natural reaction was to mistake Darnell for the killer and shoot first before asking any questions.'
"That, in substance, is Michael Shayne's theory of what actually happened and he is determined to prove it by bringing the real murderer to justice.
"Editorially, we are taking no sides in this controversy, but the News is inclined to caution those persons and organizations demanding the immediate revocation of Mr. Shayne's license to withhold judgment for a time at least to see what new facts may be brought to light to substantiate either Mr. Shayne's story or that of the Miami Beach police authorities.
"Michael Shayne holds an excellent record of solving difficult and tangled cases in the past and it appears that he may be in possession of clues overlooked by the police, who may, as Shayne bluntly charges, have been overwilling to call the case 'closed' without investigating closely.
"The News, at least, promises to follow Shayne's private investigation with sympathy and interest, and to report the results to its readers without fear or favor."
Mona Tabor dropped the newspaper in her lap when she finished. She reached for her tiny glass of absinthe while her gaze went slowly to Shayne's face. The passion behind her eyes had been replaced by a glint of fear.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded in a taut voice. "What did that stuff about Carl mean? Talk, damn you."
"So you didn't know he was a dick?" Renslow put in smoothly. "He pulled the wool over your eyes, eh? What about Carl? I wondered, by God--"
"Shut up," Mona hissed in his direction. "Shayne doesn't know anything. He's only guessing."
"Pretty good guessing," Shayne put in lazily.
"Maybe you won't think it's so good before you get out of here," Mona shrilled. For the moment she reverted to type. Anger and alarm stripped away the veneer of respectability from the real Mona Tabor, who wasn't so many years removed from the gutter. She drained the last drop of her absinthe from a glass which shook in her hand. Then she sank back against the divan.
"Maybe you're doing some damn good guessing," Renslow amplified, his voice cold as ice. "Carl Meldrum's been playing some screwy game of his own all this time. And don't think I don't know it. I never did quite figure that guy out, but when I first met him and he found out I was Leora's brother and hated her, he got tight and spilled to me that he knew her and hated her too. That's one reason I've been keeping track of him--one reason why I beat it up here today."
"You damn lying stoolie!" Mona's voice was acid. "I mighta known an ex-convict would try something like that."
Shayne's eyes had been shooting from Mona to Renslow as he maintained his position against the window, his big hands on his knees. He grinned inwardly and said, "Let's get together on this." His voice was cool, disinterested. "I don't mind saying I'd like to know who really bumped your sister off. How about you, Renslow?"
A crafty look came over Renslow's face. He said, "I'm willing to let it lie the way it is."
"I'm not. I'm not letting Joe Darnell take the rap for it." Shayne's big shoulders rose, his body was hunched toward Renslow.
"Maybe you'll decide to," Renslow suggested softly. "Maybe after we talk it over you'll get smart."
"What's eating you?" Shayne burst out. "I haven't been barking up your tree. Suppose I do pin it on Carl Meldrum? What's that to you? Nobody's got anything to worry about," he soothed, "except your sister's murderer."
The lines on Buell Renslow's face deepened and he jerked out harshly, "Look, shamus, I know the way you John Laws figure, see? I did one long stretch finding out. All right. So I'm an ex-convict and whoever squeezed Leora's white neck last night did a job that was worth plenty to me. If you don't know that already you're smart enough to dope it out pretty quick. So where does that put me? Don't think I'm dumb enough to expect the truth to do me any good. Even if I wasn't within a mile of that house last night you can buy witnesses, that saw me going in the front door."
"You're all fixed if you've got an alibi," Shayne growled. "I've never railroaded a man in my life."
"Nuts! I listened to that once before and it got me plenty of years in the big house to think it over. My old man and the D.A. both gave me the same song and dance. Be honest--come clean--and get off light."
Buell Renslow was an embittered old man now, looking back over the wreckage which too many years behind bars had made of him. His hands shook and the cocked revolver shook with them. Shayne fervently hoped the gun had a strong trigger pull. He knew the symptoms of stir-fever and the lengths to which it will drive a man.
"Yeah. They patted me on the back and told me to face it out," Renslow went on in a tone of bitter disillusionment. "It was an accident. We were all drinking. Sure, the only disgrace would be in running away. Pay your debt to society, my boy!"
He was deliberately reaching back to reopen the old wound, twisting the knife of recollection in his own bowels, bringing back into vivid focus those horror-filled days and endless nights which had seen him segregated from his fellow men like a beast behind bars. He spoke in a jerky monotone that was more terrible than a burst of violence:
"All right. So I was a damned fool. That was when every Colorado mining town had its Boot Hill. The trial was going to be a farce with maybe a suspended sentence or six months at worst. Sure, I stood up and told my story to twelve men that hated my guts because I was Alonzo Renslow's boy and he had taken millions out of the ground while they starved looking for a vein. So it was first degree and life--you rich man's bastard. All right.
"Here's the rest of it if you want to know why I'll kill you rather than take another chance. Did my old man stick by me? Did Miss Sniveling Leora play ball? What do you think? You know all the signals. How many of Alonzo Renslow's millions would it have taken to pull me out of that hellhole? A few hundred grand in an itching palm. My old man didn't spend them, did he? Why not? Do I have to tell you? Because Leora talked him out of it. She wasn't satisfied with half. She wanted it all. As long as I wore stripes it was all hers. Yeah. And now it's not hers any longer. Do you see now why I'll gun you rather than take another chance of telling the truth in court?"
"It seems to me," said Shayne mildly, "that you're only building up a case against yourself. You not only profited by your sister's death, but you hated her."
"Sure I did. And what good will it do me to swear I was in bed when it happened? I'm whipped before I start. When you start them looking beyond that punk that Thrip killed they'll end up by putting me in the hot seat and don't think I can't see it coming."
"You don't think Joe Darnell killed your sister, do you?"
"What I think about it doesn't count. The bulls think so--now. Unless you start them thinking in another direction they'll go right on thinking so."
"But it's my rump if they hang it on Darnell," Shayne argued good-naturedly. "My license will be revoked and I'll be up a dirty creek without a paddle."
"So what? You'll still be alive and free. That's some thing, isn't it?"
"You sure about that?" Buell Renslow spoke very gently.
Shayne nodded. "I'm positive. Don't be a fool, Renslow. I don't bluff, and killing me won't get you anywhere. If you're clean on last night, play it that way. If not, you'd better back out of here and start running like hell."
"And leave a million dollars behind? Oh, no!" Renslow was beginning to shake again. He gnawed at .the inner walls of his cheeks, then burst out, "If I take it on the lam I'll be sure you're fixed so you can't start chasing me."
Mona sat up, glassy-eyed, shaking her head in disgust. "You're not doing yourselves any good glaring at each other. From what I've heard about Mike Shayne, Buell, he's always looking for a chance to feather his nest. Why not feather it for him?"
"Y-e-a-h." Renslow nodded slowly. His eyes brightened. "You're not so dumb at that, Mona. Maybe we can get together on a little deal, Shayne."
Shayne said, "Maybe."
"What's it worth to you to drop the whole thing? Let it lie the way it is. Everybody's happy that way."
Shayne tugged at the lobe of his ear, then rubbed his angular chin. "I've turned down a lot of pay-offs in my time," he warned Renslow. "This'll have to be good to interest me."
"Hell! It's not as if you really had anything on me."
"No," Renslow emphasized savagely. "Not a damned thing."
"Darnell didn't kill Leora Thrip, you know."
Renslow stared at Shayne a long time. Shayne stared back. Mona broke the silence by saying cheerily, "Let's all us menfolks have a drink." She stood up steadily and reached for the absinthe bottle.
With his gaze still boring at the ex-convict, Shayne said, "That's a good idea. But that green stuff will drive you ' nuts. I've got something better in my coat pocket. I'm going to pull it out, Renslow."
He slid a hand slowly into his coat pocket and drew out the bottle of cognac. Mona made a wry face and asked, "How many calls for my special?"
"None," Renslow answered, his eyes fixed avidly on the bottle in Shayne's hand. He pocketed his short gun and took the bottle from the detective. He took a long drink and handed it back, nodding approval.
Mona poured her own drink and sat down on the divan. Shayne took a drink and set the bottle on the floor where Renslow could reach it. He settled back and lit a cigarette and said:
"All we need now is someone to take the rap for Joe Darnell."
"To hell with that." Renslow made a violent gesture. "When the estate's divided I'll put more dough in your pocket than you could pick up in your lousy racket the rest of your life."
Shayne shook his head. "I'm stubborn," he admitted. "Maybe there's a fool streak of pride left in me. I'll never give Peter Painter the satisfaction of seeing me run out of town."
"Hell, you'll have enough jack to buy and sell Painter," Renslow scoffed. He reached for the bottle and took a swig.
Shayne shook his head angrily. "There's more to it than that. You ought to know what I'm talking about. You beat a life rap because you wouldn't let your sister get away with what you figured was a raw deal."
"All right, why not frame one of the Thrip kids?" said Renslow generously. "They were both there last night. They both hated Leora because she held out on them. Maybe one of them did do it," he added as an afterthought.
"Maybe," Shayne agreed. "But it'd be damn hard to prove." He stretched his long legs out in front of him and thrust both hands deep into his trousers pockets. His lips pursed into a whistle and he frowned in perplexity.
Mona shuddered at him over her absinthe. "Good Lord! I never saw anything like this in my life--you two sitting there--planning who to frame for a murder as calmly as if you were deciding what to order for supper."
Shayne's frown deepened. He paid no attention to her. "We've got to have somebody with a motive and opportunity," he announced. He looked at Renslow suddenly and asked. "How about those notes you wrote your sister? Any chance of their being traced back to you?"
Renslow's jaw sagged, his eyes keenly defensive. "What notes?"
"I thought we were through playing round the mulberry bush. We're going to have to get together if we put this thing over right."
"Sure. That's what I say. But I don't know anything about any notes." He muttered, and took another drink.
Shayne said angrily, "The hell you don't. If you're going to hold out on me I'm through, by God." He got up and started for the door, his jaw jutting.
"Wait," Renslow begged. "Don't go running out on me. Honest to God, I'm giving it to you straight. What notes are you talking about?"
Shayne stopped near the door. He half turned back, looking from Renslow to Mona with an expression of slowly dawning understanding. "Maybe you didn't, Renslow, maybe you didn't. Then that gives it to us on a platter." He came back slamming his fist into an open palm. "That puts it up to Carl Meldrum. He fits right in the groove."
He was watching Mona closely from low-lidded eyes. He saw her body jerk. Liqueur spilled from her glass.
"Carl Meldrum?" Renslow repeated. "Yeah. He fits swell and he as good as told me there was something between him and Leora."
"He's got Dorothy Thrip on the string," Shayne explained swiftly. He continued to watch Mona while he spoke to Renslow. "He got tired of waiting for her stepmother to die and leave the girl money so he could marry her and get his hands on it."
Mona drained her glass and threw it on the floor. "That's a lie," she cried passionately. "Do you think I'm going to sit here and let you frame Carl? That's too much! Sure, he was playing the girl for what he could get, but don't you think he wasn't coming home when she paid off."
"He was there at one-thirty last night," Shayne told her. "He beat it to the Tally-Ho and told you to fix him up an alibi from one o'clock on."
"That's another lie," Mona raged. Her splendid poise was gone again. "It's all a pack of lies. He got to the Tally-Ho at one o'clock. I can prove it by half a dozen witnesses."
"Sure," Shayne said easily. "You're a sap and fixed it for him. You've been a sap all this time and don't know-it. Get wise. He's just using you."
"If I believed that, I'd--" She leaned toward the men, making talons of her long, red-tipped fingers.
"It's the truth," Shayne urged. "Here's your chance to get even. Bust his alibi for last night--that's all I ask. I'll do the rest." His eyes glittered and his voice was hard.
"All right. Sure, I'll--No! Get out of here, you rat. Get out before I get sore." She tottered to her feet and began to mouth out an assortment of curses.
Shayne gave her a push that sent her floundering back onto the divan.
"Think it over," he said coldly. "Get your eyes open and think over what we've said."
She lay back panting, her eyes distended with hatred and fear.
"If you don't watch your step I'll see if I can't pin the murder on you," Shayne growled. "I'm hanging the rap around somebody's neck, and don't forget it."
He whirled and went from the room.
* * * *
DRUNK AS A SKUNK
When Shayne walked into the lobby of his apartment hotel the clerk had the afternoon News spread out on the desk and was reading Shayne's statement and story, which was prominently displayed. The clerk looked up and smiled nervously when the tall detective came across the lobby with the exaggerated erectness of a man who is very drunk and knows it.
"Gee, Mr. Shayne," the clerk said, "I'm sorry about the way I acted this morning. I've been reading here in the paper--"
"Still believing what you read in the papers, eh?" Shayne's wide lips twitched. There was a brooding quality of madness in the stare of his bloodshot eyes upon the younger man. Then he made a savage gesture of impatience, dismissing the subject, and stood flat-footed, swaying a trifle from the hips. The sink between his cheek and in bones was exaggerated into a deep gash.
"Has my wife come back--or phoned?"
"No, sir." The clerk kept jerking his gaze away from Shayne's face, then furtively letting his eyes slide back to a Michael Shayne he had never seen before. Finally getting hold of himself, the young man added, "But you've got a visitor--a client, I guess. I sent him up to your office. He wouldn't give me his name but he looked a lot like the Thrip boy's picture in the morning paper."
Shayne nodded with no show of surprise. "I'll go up, Jim." He started to turn away, paused, and added in a remote tone, "Don't ever get married, Jim."
The clerk gaped after him as he went straight to the elevator, which was letting a load of guests out just then. One fat lady didn't get out of his way very fast. His shoulder swung her sideways and her escort caught her from falling, steadied her, and started after the detective with an indignant yelp, but Shayne stepped into the elevator without looking back and said, "Three," to the operator, who shrank away from him and clanged the door shut hastily.
On the third floor Shayne's feet traversed the familiar route to his old bachelor apartment. The door stood ajar and Ernst Thrip jumped up nervously from a deep chair when Shayne came in on heavy heels. The boy opened and closed his mouth two or three times without making any sound.
After one uninterested glance, Shayne disregarded his visitor. He moved with the precise somnambulism of habit to a wall liquor cabinet and took down a bottle of cognac and a wineglass. He brushed past young Thrip to set them on the center table, then strode into the kitchen, where he put ice cubes in a goblet, filled it from the faucet, and came back to set it beside the bottle and smaller glass. His face wore a harsh, preoccupied expression that took no notice of the other's presence. He poured a drink, lit a cigarette, and sat down at the table with the manner of an acolyte performing a ritual of tremendous importance.
Ernst Thrip had stopped opening and closing his mouth, but the appearance of extreme youth and unintelligence clung to him even while he kept his mouth shut. He had changed from evening clothes to a tan sack suit, and dark rings in the flesh under his eyes asserted that he had not slept for a long time. Smoke curled up past his face from a cigarette in a long ornate holder and his eyelids and lips kept twitching while he waited for Shayne to acknowledge his presence.
Shayne downed a stiff drink of cognac and a swallow of water. He took a deep drag on his cigarette and let thin smoke curl out his wide nostrils. Staring across the room past Ernst Thrip, he said, "Sit down," in a wearied, gentle tone.
The lad's eyes brightened. He sank down in the chair he had been occupying before Shayne entered. "You acted so peculiar," young Thrip faltered, "I didn't know--"
Shayne said, "I'm drunk as a skunk." He took another long drink of cognac and didn't look at the boy.
In a high, thin voice, Ernst said, "I came to talk to you--that is--I've been reading what you said in the News." He jumped up from his chair and circled it, then sat down on the edge and leaned forward to crush out his cigarette in an ash tray. His gaze clung imploringly to the detective's harried face.
"A lot of people have been reading that stuff and getting hot flashes over it." Shayne emptied his cognac glass and set it down.
Ernst's long, effeminate lashes came down over his eyes in a semblance of coy confusion. He shakily inserted a fresh cigarette in his holder and lit it.
"What did you mean by it? What--did you mean?" He jumped up from his chair again, stood as if poised to make a hasty exit.
"I didn't stutter," said Shayne shortly.
"What makes you think that man didn't do it?" Ernst panted. "What clues have you got?" He sat down again and puffed on his cigarette, blowing smoke out in short, jerky whiffs.
"I'm not just thinking," Shayne told him placidly. "I now Darnell didn't squeeze your stepmother's throat." He poured another drink into his glass, held it up to let afternoon sunlight spill through the amber liquid while he viewed it with unqualified approval.
"Do you know who did?"
"I'm beginning to get a damned good idea. Ultimate evaluations are eluding me for the moment. Perhaps another drink--"
Shayne lifted his glass and sipped from it with a questing look on his face. He nodded with conviction. "Yes--another drink--or two--or three--will undoubtedly remove the final barriers, roll away the nimbus of doubt and perplexity, and my brilliant intuition and talent for deduction, unhampered by mundane considerations--"
Ernst jumped up again. Excitedly he said, "You're drunk, all right. Drunk enough to think you're awful damn smart. I know what you think. Why don't you come out and say it? Why don't--"
Shayne emptied his glass and threw it hard against the wall, paid no heed to the shattered spray of flecked glass on the floor. He glared directly at the young man for the first time since entering the room and demanded:
"What in God's name is eating you? Quit bobbing up and down like a chaperon at a picnic and say what you've got to say. I've got some drinking to do and I do it better alone."
Ernst Thrip dropped back into his chair and stared sullenly at Shayne. "You've been talking to that Carl Meldrum," he choked out. "Don't believe anything he tells you. He's lying to save himself. If it wasn't that other man, I bet it was Carl. I knew he was lying when he wouldn't let me go right up--" The youth paused suddenly, clamping a slim hand over his mouth and shrinking away from Shayne, who had come alert.
"He wouldn't let you go right up? You mean last night when you came home?"
"No--I--I don't know what I mean. But it wasn't Dorothy. It couldn't have been Dot. She's so gentle and good--"
Shayne lunged to his feet, leaned over Ernst with lips drawn back from his teeth. "She's gentle and good like a rattlesnake, you poor simp. You're jealous of Carl, aren't you? Don't try to deny it. And this morning she was trying to get you to lie about last night. Don't try to lie to me. You're not cut out for lying. Spill it, kid! Spill it quick."
"No--no! What you're saying about Dot isn't true."
Deliberately, Shayne slapped him backhanded. Ernst's head jerked sideways and he began to cry.
Shayne swayed upright. "You're behind the eight ball, son," he muttered, not unkindly. "You're a fool if you protect either Dorothy or Carl Meldrum. Hell, do you think either of them would lift a finger to help you? Tell me the truth about last night. When you came in you met Carl coming out--that it? And he stopped you from going on upstairs. And you suspect it was because he and Dorothy had framed your stepmother's death together. Maybe they heard you coming and he hurried down to stop you while she went ahead and finished up the job."
"No! No, damn you. Don't say that!" Ernst dragged |himself up in his chair with an effort toward dignity that was ruined by the tears running down his face. "Dot couldn't have had anything to do with it. She's just shielding him. I know she is. He's got some strange power over her and she isn't herself any more."
Shayne grunted disgustedly. He turned away and went unsteadily to the wall cupboard where he got two glasses and brought them back to the table. Filling both, he offered Ernst one, saying gruffly, "Put that in your belly and buck up."
"No, I--I couldn't drink it straight." Ernst grimaced and shuddered. There were red splotches on his yellowish cheek where Shayne had slapped him.
The big detective shrugged and set the glass down. He sipped from the other one and said irritably:
"All right, pull yourself together your own way. And stop your sniveling and your silly attempts to lie. If you didn't think your precious sister had a hand in it you wouldn't be here right now. You're damn sure not trying to cover up for Carl." He dropped heavily into a chair, got out a cigarette, and stabbed the end of it aimlessly at hi's mouth while his eyes stalked the cringing youth before him.
"I came to see you because--I felt Carl was trying to drag Dorothy into it. I told her she shouldn't lie for him. I knew you'd find out he hadn't left when she said he did." Hie stopped to catch his breath and Shayne put in:
"Let me get one or two things straight for a change. Did Carl Meldrum meet you at the door when you came home last night?"
Ernst nodded sullenly. "And he wouldn't let me go up. stairs at first. He grabbed me and started saying a lot of silly things and I thought he was just trying to detain me [ ]so that--well, so I wouldn't find out--"
"All right. I get the picture. So you wouldn't hurry up to your sister's room and find out she wasn't there."
"Yes, she was. She was, too. She was just undressing."
"Or dressing," Shayne put in cynically. "You're still not quite sure which. All right. How soon afterward was the shot fired?"
"I--don't know. Not very long, I guess. We were--talking in Dot's room."
Shayne nodded. He said calmly, "That all ties up nicely." He paused, tugging at the lobe of his left ear, then asked, "Is there a telephone extension in your upstairs sitting-room?"
"What time was it that Dorothy got the call she wouldn't tell you about?"
"It was while the police--What call are you talking about?"
"The same one you are," Shayne assured him pleasantly. He emptied his glass of cognac. To all outward appearances he was cold sober. Mental stimulus had a way of doing that to him. It counteracted the influence of alcohol, driving the stupor from his brain and leaving it clear and alert.
"It was after she got the call that she told you to lie about when Carl left," Shayne went on in a musing tone. "You argued about it but she won you over. She and Carl were in it together, of course."
Ernst came to his feet suddenly. "You've said that once too often. I told you I wouldn't stand for it." His face was contorted and his eyes were like the eyes of a rat in a trap. "I came here to find out what your newspaper accusations mean." he panted. "All right. You're not going to pin it on Dot. You're not, I say."
He moved away from Shayne, reeling across the room, propping into a half crouch. His hand went into his hip pocket and brought out a .32 automatic.
In a hoarse whisper, Shayne said, "Drop it, you fool."
"I won't. I'm going to kill you." Ernst Thrip was speaking in a whisper also. There was slobber on his lips.
The telephone shrilled out between them in the silence. Shayne's eyes darted to the wall instrument. He put his hands flat on the table top and pushed himself up slowly.
"Don't you move a step," Ernst cried out in shrill warning. "It's one of your tricks."
The telephone kept on ringing.
Shayne swung toward Ernst abruptly. In a thick voice he said, "I'm going to answer that phone." He took a quick stride forward and a sibilant gasp escaped Ernst's lips. There was a loud report in the room and a bullet stung Shayne's thigh.
He whirled and lunged at the youth, who was looking down at the smoking weapon in his hands as though he didn't know how it got there. Shayne's rush slammed him to his knees and the detective's fist crunched against the side of his head. Ernst slid to the floor and lay inert.
The telephone had stopped ringing when Shayne got it.
He jerked the receiver off the hook and said, "Hello."
The hotel clerk's voice answered apologetically. "I'm sorry, Mr. Shayne, but your wife must have hung up or she was disconnected."
"My--wife?" Shayne repeated.
"Yes, sir. She seemed excited and in a hurry and I tried to get you right away on both phones."
"She didn't say anything? Where she was-or anything?"
"No. She waited to talk to you when I told her you were here."
Shayne said, "Thanks," in a flat voice and hung up. Sweat dripped from new lines in his face as he walked slowly back to the table. He picked up the drink he had poured for Ernst and emptied it in one gulp.
Then he looked across at the young man, who was struggling to get to his feet, and said, "I think I'm going to kill you. You baby-faced twerp, do you know what you've done? You don't know--and you don't care, do you? You're so swelled out with your own filthy affairs that you're not worrying about anything else."
Shayne advanced toward him slowly, knotted fists hanging loosely by his sides. Ernst cringed away, scrambling on the floor for the pistol that had fallen from his fingers. Shayne waited until he got hold of it, then very deliberately took a quick stride and brought his big foot down on the hand over the pistol. Ernst squealed with pain as blood oozed from crushed fingers. Shayne laughed.
"You stinking little louse. What gives people like you the idea that they can walk in here and throw slugs at me for the fun of it and then go out under their own power? And stop me from answering my own telephone under gun threats? Answer me that!"
With his hand pinioned under Shayne's heavy foot, Ernst thrashed about on the floor, his screams racking through the room.
Shayne continued to curse in a low, hard monotone, grinding Ernst's hand and wrist into the rug. Then, disdaining to touch him with his hands, Shayne kicked the boy's body once, with savage force.
Ernst's squeal died away to a rasping whimper; he lay limp. The detective drew back, eying the body reflectively, as though somewhat surprised to see Ernst there. He rubbed one hand over his jaw, and then across his eyes Ernst didn't move. From where he stood, Shayne couldn't tell whether he was breathing or not.
At the moment it didn't matter a hell of a lot. He was still wondering sickly where Phyllis was and why she had been prevented from finishing her telephone call.
After a time he called Chief Will Gentry, keeping his back turned on Ernst's figure. He said, "Hello, Will," pleasantly. "Mike Shayne on is end. I think maybe I've killed young Thrip. Better send a doctor up to my apartment with a basket to pick him up. What? Well, why not? I may kill off the rest of before family before I get through. I don't give a damn what you do about it, Will. Any dope on Carl Meldrum? Okay. I'll be seeing you."
He hung up and went out, leaving the door closed but unlatched. In the hall he shivered and went up the steps to his living-apartment and got a coat. In ten minutes he was on his way to Miami Beach.
* * * *
JAIL CAN WAIT
At the Palace Hotel, Shayne asked at the desk for Carl Meldrum. The clerk was not the one who had been on duty when the detective called early that morning. He shook his head with disinterest and said that Meldrum had been out all day.
Shayne questioned the clerk and listened grimly while he learned that a young lady had called for Meldrum before noon, had gone up to his room, and come down with him about an hour later. Meldrum had ordered his car brought around from the garage and they had driven away together.
Again, as he had over the telephone, the clerk described the young lady who had gone out with Carl Meldrum. He had no idea what the girl's name was. But Mike Shayne recognized Phyllis in his words.
Further questioning produced no information beyond that which Gentry's man had elicited. As far as the clerk knew, Meldrum was a typical wealthy tourist taking the Miami sun and avoiding boredom by spending much time at the hot spots in the company of various women. He primly informed Shayne that it was not the policy of the hotel management to inquire too closely into the private affairs of their guests, and admitted that it was not unusual for Meldrum to be absent from his room for a couple of days and nights at a time. He understood it was a police matter and was perfectly willing to co-operate, but he had no suggestion as to where to start searching for Meldrum. He was certain, however, that neither Meldrum nor the girl had taken any luggage.
When Shayne turned away from the desk he spotted a Miami plain-clothes man seated unobtrusively in a corner of the lobby. He gave the man a wink as he strolled to the door and the cop joined him outside a moment later.
He said, "Hi, Mike. I didn't know whether you wanted me to make you in there or not."
Shayne frowned. "It wouldn't have mattered a hell of a lot, Fred. Are you laying for Meldrum?"
"Yep. He hasn't shown yet."
"I don't think he will. But if he does, for God's sake don't lose him. You've seen my wife's pictures in the paper, haven't you, Fred?"
"Yep. She's a knockout, Mike. I don't see how the hell you rated--"
Wearily Shayne said, "Skip it. She's the woman who went out with Meldrum."
The Miami detective's eyes widened. "Your wife? Now, what the hell--"
Again Shayne broke in. "She contacted him with some crazy idea of helping me out of the spot I'm in for the Thrip killing. If Meldrum finds out who she is--"
He paused, his face sober in the deepening twilight. With an effort he shrugged his heavy shoulders. "If they come back together--get her away from him, Fred. If he comes back alone, grab him and get him across the line to Miami before Painter can stop you."
"Sure," Fred said awkwardly. "Say, I'm sorry as hell."
Shayne nodded. He turned up the collar of his belted trench coat and thrust his hands deep into slash pockets. He turned away, got in his roadster while the cop watched him anxiously, and drove straight to the Miami Beach police headquarters. There he parked and went in.
A group of cops in the outer office scowled at him as he went by. He went on back to Peter Painter's private office, turned the knob, and strode through the door. Painter looked up from some papers with a wispy smile on his thin lips. He tilted his swivel chair back and said unpleasantly, "Ah, Shayne. I wondered where you were hiding out."
Shayne hooked his toe under the rung of a straight chair and dragged it close to Painter's desk. He sat down solidly and explained, "I've been too busy looking for Mrs. Thrip's murderer to do any hiding out."
Peter Painter's forefinger trembled while the tip of it caressed his silky black mustache. "Still determined to make an ass of yourself, eh?"
"The same kind of an ass I've always been," Shayne agreed shortly. He hunched forward with his elbows on Painter's desk. "Do you know anything about a Carl Meldrum at the Palace Hotel?"
Peter Painter shook his head impatiently. "Why should I?"
"Maybe you shouldn't," Shayne agreed. "It merely appears that he's the bird who strangled Mrs. Thrip."
Painter snorted his disgust. "That case is closed," he said with sharp finality.
"You wish it was," Shayne corrected him. "Have you got those extortion notes Thrip gave you?"
"Yes. And I'm keeping them."
"Mind letting me have a look?"
"I do, certainly." Painter's voice was thin, wrathy. "You've done your last messing into the affairs of the Miami Beach police department, Shayne. You stand discredited, with no official standing whatever."
"The notes don't matter, of course," Shayne said with a wave of his big hand in dismissal. "It merely happens that I have an idea we'll find the murderer when we find the writer."
Peter Painter's eyes bulged slightly. He ran the tip of his tongue over his upper lip, leaned toward Shayne, and started to speak, but Shayne cut him off by saying:
"Have you received an answer to the telegram you sent the governor?" His voice was gentle, his eyes guileless.
Painter's face took on a purplish tinge. He pounded his desk with a smooth, small fist. "Not yet. But I think an arrest as accessory before the fact will cook your goose to a fine turn. I'm swearing out a warrant."
Shayne said, "Don't do it, Painter."
"Why not? There's sufficient evidence to convict you. I shan't be swayed by any personal considerations."
"But it will make you look considerably smaller than your five-feet-eight if I solve this case locked up in your jail. And I have a ball rolling that can wind it up tight--in jail or out."
Their eyes locked for an instant. Painter began to smile. "You don't relish the thought of jail, do you? You've reached the end of your rope and it doesn't feel so good. After you cool your heels in a cell--"
"While Mrs. Thrip's real murderer is going free," Shayne reminded him. "Don't go out on a limb all the way and make me saw it off. I can do it. I've done it before." His gray eyes narrowed, gleaming through slits. "I'm pushing them all against the wall. I've got them coming to me. Another few hours will end it. It'll be better, of course, if I'm free to follow up the stuff I'm smoking out."
Painter laughed harshly. He slid thumbs into the armholes of his vest and strutted sitting down. "I have no right to make an exception in your case. My duty to the law-abiding citizens of this city demands that you be treated like any other criminal."
"If you lock me up in your stinking jail tonight," Shayne told him deliberately, "you'll be abetting the escape of one murderer and possibly contribute materially to another one. You can't do it, Painter." Sweat was beginning to stand out on Shayne's face. His bluff wasn't going over. Phyllis was still missing. He dragged out a pack of cigarettes and put one between his lips without taking his eyes off Painter's face.
Viciously Painter taunted him: "Can't I? I think it's time you learned that I am running Miami Beach. I know you're running around desperately trying to cook up some sort of frame to clear Darnell and yourself. You're through planting crooked evidence, Shayne. You're through, by God, as an obstructor of justice. You've given your last lying headline to the Miami News. It was nice of you to walk in here to have the warrant served on you." He stuck out a finger to poke a button on his desk.
Shayne brushed the finger away from the button. "No, Painter. Hell, I'm asking you as man to man. My wife's in danger. She started out with some idea of helping me--and she has disappeared. She--God knows how badly she needs me."
"Isn't that too bad! Just too sweet and husbandly. For a tough Mick who takes them where he finds them and leaves them where he lays them, you're considerably softened."
Muscles were standing out like cords on either side of Shayne's lean jaw. "All right. So maybe I'm tough. Phyllis is--hell, Painter, you know what Phyllis is--and she's my wife," he ended doggedly.
"Sure, I know. A rattlebrained gal with lots of money and not enough sense to pick a better man than you."
"All right." The words came from Shayne's stiff lips freighted with warning. "She's my wife," he repeated. His fingers contracted involuntarily into huge fists.
"So what? Lots of men have wives. Lots of men that I arrest for one thing or another. If I listened to all their sob stories I'd never make an arrest."
"This is different." Shayne pounded out the words. "Phyllis has deliberately mixed herself up in this murder racket. She's out right now with the man who either killed Mrs. Thrip or knows who did kill her. If he finds out Phyllis is my wife and sees the stuff I had in the News today, God knows what he'll do."
"Which is your fault for putting such bilge in the News. Let it be a lesson to you. As far as your wife's being in danger and needing you to help her, that's just bilge too. We have police to protect citizens from harm. To hear you talk, one would think the world would come to an end if you were put out of circulation for a night or two. I don't think it would. Really I don't, Shayne. You're not that important."
Painter reached forward again to touch the button that would bring men in to arrest Michael Shayne. This time the redheaded detective lunged out of his chair and shoved Painter back.
"I don't give a damn what you think. I'm staying out of jail tonight, Painter. I practically killed a man an hour ago when he got in my way. I'd just as leave kill a chief of detectives as anybody."
Painter put up a hand to ward off a blow as the big detective towered over him. "Don't touch me," he panted. "You're crazy, Shayne. You can't--you can't get away with this right here in my office."
"I am getting away with it." Shayne held his big hands in front of him, moving forward deliberately while Painter frantically shoved his wheeled swivel chair back. "I'll break your neck," Shayne went on menacingly. His tone bore out his threat.
"No, no." Backed against the wall, Painter cowered down in his chair. "I'm not going to arrest you. Don't you know I wouldn't arrest you when your wife's in trouble? Can't you take a little kidding?"
Shayne stood over him, his hands a few inches from painter's throat. He said, "I don't like your way of joking." Then he relaxed slowly, straightened up. "Will you give me your word of honor to let me walk out of here unmolested? Will you swear to hold that warrant in abeyance until tomorrow morning?" Shayne sounded like a high official administering an oath to a lesser official.
"Yes, of course," Painter chattered. His perfect teeth showed between his dashing little mustache and trembling lower lip in an attempted smile. "I didn't mean it at all. I know how you must feel about your wife. If there's anything I can do--"
"There isn't. Except to leave me alone." Shayne turned his back on the detective chief and strode to the door. He opened it and went out, closing it softly behind him. Then, without releasing the knob he jerked it open again.
Painter was leaning over his desk reaching for the button with a look of crafty triumph on his sleek face.
Shayne rushed him in five quick long strides. Painter yelped just before he was knocked back five feet by the impact of Shayne's furious fist. Painter made no move as he relaxed on the rug.
Shayne stood over him breathing hard, then whirled and went out. This time he closed the door firmly and whistled a gay off-tune melody as he went through the outer office and past the curious stares of the Beach officers.
Outside, he got in his car and switched on the lights, swung about in a vicious U-turn, and drove away at high speed.
* * * *
ONE JUMP AHEAD OF THE LAW
Shayne pushed his car hard to the north and east. At the Thrip home he pulled aside to let a long, cream-colored limousine come out of the drive in a hurry. A uniformed chauffeur was behind the wheel and Shayne caught a quick glimpse of Mr. Thrip, alone in the spacious tonneau. He felt sure the pudgy realtor had not seen him, for he was sitting pompously erect and staring straight ahead. Shayne scowled after the handsome car as it slid away, then swung his roadster into the palm-lined, curving driveway.
The horse-faced butler was at the front door, as stoic and solemn-eyed as on his last encounter. Upon recognizing Shayne, he tried to shut the door in his face, but Shayne's shoe got in the way.
"Mr. Thrip is not in," the butler protested. "He just left for Miami."
"I saw him. He almost ran me down as I was turning in." Shayne's tone was sour. He pushed past the butler. "I want to see the boy and the girl, anyway."
"You can't see Mr. Ernst, sir. It was on his account that the master was called to Miami so hurriedly."
"That so?" Shayne queried indifferently. "What happened to the young pantywaist?"
"It is not an occasion for slurring allusions, sir," the butler protested severely. "Mr. Ernst is badly injured. He is in the hospital, unconscious, so the message revealed. At the point of death, I dare say."
Shayne feigned astonishment. "Don't tell me Ernst has got himself involved with the police."
"In an innocent manner," the butler assured him. "An officer discovered him in a brutally beaten condition in an alleyway. He was evidently attacked and robbed by ruthless ruffians." There was a hint of relish in the butler's suave voice.
Shayne muttered, "Good old Will," to himself, then said aloud, "All right, I'll tackle Dorothy if that's all that's left for me."
"You can't, sir," the man said firmly. "Miss Dorothy is at present engaged with her personal maid."
"To hell with that. I'll take her and the maid in my stride." He pushed forward impatiently and the butler drew back in silent reproach, then conceded:
"Very well, sir, if you insist. She's in her upstairs sitting-room. I'll have a maid show you--"
"I know the way." Shayne's long legs were already going up the stairs. He didn't know how long Peter Painter was going to stay unconscious on his office floor undiscovered, but he did realize it wouldn't be smart to waste too much time on this side of the bay.
He knocked on the sitting-room door, then turned the knob and walked in.
Dorothy Thrip was lounging on a chaise longue across the room and a short, square-bodied, and square-headed female was kneeling on the rug in front of her doing something to her feet. Dorothy wore a belted chenille bathrobe and she was languidly smoking a cigarette in a foot-long jeweled holder. The air was sweetish from its smoke. Her head lolled back and soft brown hair was spread out like a nimbus to frame her face. It curled up at the ends in big, loose ringlets.
Her eyes were as round as Shayne remembered them and they looked up at him without curiosity. She did not move from her relaxed position. She appeared to be enjoying herself greatly. In the strong light of a floor lamp her face appeared even more pointed and vixenish than it had that morning.
The broad-backed maid did not turn around when Shayne closed the door. Taffy-colored braids were twined around her head. She was bent forward, arduously concentrating.
Shayne moved toward them and saw that Dorothy Thrip's toenails were being pedicured and tinted with carmine polish. He lifted his shaggy left eyebrow and grinned.
The girl flipped ashes onto the rug and demanded, "What's the matter with you? Haven't you ever seen a girl having her toes manicured?"
"No," Shayne admitted, with a smile of genuine amusement, "that's one of the more unpleasant aspects of life which has hitherto been denied me." He dragged up a chair and sat down, adding pleasantly, "Don't let me interrupt the gilding of the lily."
"We won't," Dorothy assured him.
The maid looked up at the detective with an expression of bovine wonderment and Dorothy admonished her: "Don't pay any attention to him, Gertrude. He's a species of vermin that comes out of holes in the wood around this house."
"That was clever when Dorothy Parker first tossed it off," Shayne told her. He lit a cigarette and Dorothy Thrip made a face at him. The maid concentrated on her task of brushing carmine stain on her mistress's toenails. There was silence in the sitting-room.
Shayne blew out smoke and asked, "Have you seen Carl today?"
"Not since he called you last night from the Tally-Ho?"
"No. What do you know about his telephoning last night?" She twisted to let her round, agate-like eyes stare sullenly at her interrogator.
Shayne made a negligent gesture. "Just one of a detective's specialties--tapping telephone wires and all that."
He saw quick fear rush into her eyes. It was swiftly replaced by crafty speculation. She said, "Now I know you're lying."
"Uh-huh," Shayne agreed with a wide grin, "because you know that if I had listened in to that early morning conversation I'd have the deadwood on Carl for your stepmother's murder and wouldn't be around here asking polish questions. That's using your head, mademoiselle, here does Carl hang out in the daytime?"
"I don't have to answer your questions." Her round eyes became slits when they lowered to observe Gertrude's inquisitive blue ones looking up at Shayne. "Go on, Gertrude, and stop gawking. I haven't got all night."
"You don't have to answer questions," Shayne told her, "but you will. Where would Carl be likely to take a pick-up and keep her all day?"
"What do you mean by that?" Dorothy pointed the long cigarette holder close to Shayne's nose.
Shayne moved his head back a couple of inches. "Just what you're afraid I mean."
Dorothy scowled fleetingly, the crease between her eyes smoothing out with youthful resilience. "I don't believe you," she said. "Carl wouldn't--Why, I've got a date to meet him at the Tally-Ho tonight."
"Your red toenails will be stood up along with the rest of you if you expect him to keep that date. Anyway, you're supposed to be in mourning. Where's your sense of decency?"
Dorothy Thrip laughed. An angry laugh. "You sound like Father--ordering me not to meet Carl there tonight. Damn such hypocrisy." She yawned and wriggled her red-tipped toenails. "That'll do, Gertrude. You can lay out my things now. The sequin dinner gown."
Gertrude said, "Yes, ma'am," and got to her feet. She went into an adjoining bedroom and closed the door without looking at the detective again.
Shayne said, "If you insist on being a fool," as if he made the statement for no reason except that he considered her one.
Dorothy sat up straight and mashed out her cigarette with unnecessary force. "You're the one who's being stupid."
"The gal who's putting the hooks into Carl right now is something to take his mind off a fox-faced brat like you," he told her, "and don't make any mistake." Shayne's voice was startlingly serious.
Dorothy shot him a searching glance and said, "I know Carl Meldrum," with all the confidence she could command. "Don't think he has fooled me--but he won't be running out on me from now on. Not with the money I'll have to throw around."
"I'd still like to know where he might have gone with his new girl today," Shayne persisted mildly.
"And I still don't believe he went anywhere with a girl today," Dorothy retorted. "Carl's a night owl. He sleeps days. If you want to see him you'd better hang around the Tally-Ho tonight. He'll be there." She stretched her arms and yawned in Shayne's face. "I've got to dress." She started to get up but Shayne put a big hand out to stop her.
"Have you heard about what happened to your brother?"
"That dope? Did he get his behind in a sling? Let me get up, you brute." She clawed at Shayne's wrist and he grabbed her hand. He growled:
"I've got a bullet hole in my pants where Ernst shot me a couple of hours ago when he got the idea I was closing down on you for strangling your stepmother. You ought to have some appreciation for his brotherly interest."
Dorothy Thrip fell back in her chair and stared at Shayne. "You've got--what?" she faltered. "Ernst tried to shoot you?" Her voice was weak with fright and incredulity.
Shayne let go of her wrist. "That's right. He figures Carl detained him at the front door last night while you were up here finishing the job of strangling your stepmother."
Dorothy's round eyes were bright and wild. "The fool!" she exclaimed. "The crazy fool!" Her voice softened to a moan when she gasped, "What--else--did he tell you?"
"Plenty--before I finished with him," Shayne told her. "With what he told me and what I've picked up here and there it's about enough." He paused, then demanded abruptly, "Did you know that Carl Meldrum was trying to blackmail your stepmother?"
So far as Shayne could judge, her surprise was genuine. "Trying to blackmail--Leora?" she asked in a dazed voice. "Now you're crazy too. I never heard anything so foolish in all my life. How could he blackmail Leora?"
"Who else do you think was writing her those notes?"
"God knows." For an instant she considered, then said, "I suppose some nut who knew she had money."
Shayne was bent over, his chin resting in his hand, staring toward the fireplace where the log had been burning last night. At this early hour of the evening the room was warm.
After a brief silence, Dorothy Thrip said, "Another came today, you know."
Shayne stiffened. "Another note?"
"Sure. Didn't you know? I thought you were a detective and found out everything." Her round eyes were scornful.
"What was it like? How did it come?"
"Just like all the others. Typewritten and mailed from Miami. It was postmarked last night, so Dad says that explodes your silly theory that your operative was innocent and the writer of the notes killed her. Because if he'd planned to kill her and did kill her, he certainly would not have mailed another note to her last night. So, if it was Carl who was writing them," she ended triumphantly, "that proves more than ever that he didn't have anything to do with what happened last night."
"It doesn't prove anything," Shayne snapped, "except that whoever wrote the notes might try to use it as an out if he was caught. If you ask me, it's the damnedest angle yet." He sank back into his chair and stuck a cigarette in his mouth while he frowned at nothing across the room.
Dorothy was watching him with her head tilted slightly. Twice she started to speak but didn't. Then she got up quietly and stepped past him. The detective appeared to have forgotten her entirely. She was halfway to her bedroom door when a telephone burred discreetly behind a painted screen near the fireplace.
She paused, looking back over her shoulder. Shayne shook his head like a man emerging from an underwater swim. He looked at the screen and then at Dorothy as the telephone stopped ringing.
He asked, "Is it an extension?" and Dorothy nodded. She said, "A maid will answer it downstairs," and they both waited. The telephone didn't ring again. After a few minutes there were light footsteps in the hall outside and a quick rap on the door.
Dorothy said, "Yes," and went toward it. Shayne sat relaxed watching her. The door opened and a maid said:
"It was someone on the phone wanting to know if Mr. Shayne was here, Miss Dorothy. I told them I thought he was, and the man said he'd be right over and hung up."
Dorothy said, "You needn't have bothered me with that," petulantly, and turned back into the room.
Shayne eased himself erect and grinned at her. "I've got a hunch it's the hounds of the Miami Beach law barking at my trail." He lounged toward the door, adding casually, "See you at the Tally-Ho," and went out.
With unhurried swiftness he went downstairs and out to his car, pulled away, and drove over the Venetian Causeway to the Miami side of the bay, where he had an even chance of staying out of jail. But he was beginning to wonder whether that was going to help a hell of a lot in solving the Thrip and Darnell murder cases.
* * * *
ONE JUMP BEHIND DEATH
Shayne stopped at the first drugstore he came to on Biscayne Boulevard and called his hotel from a pay station. The clerk told him that Phyllis had neither returned nor phoned since the afternoon call which he had failed to receive. He hung up and used another nickel calling Miami police headquarters. He caught Will Gentry still in his office and the detective sounded worried.
"What the hell's getting into you, Mike? You knocking out everybody you meet? I'm willing to go a long way with you, but you can't go around bouncing your fist off Peter's chin."
"Hell's bells, Mike, be reasonable!"
"He's been begging for that for a long time, Will. Did the little twerp tell you he was trying to lock me up in his stinking jail when it happened?"
"Sure. But resisting arrest and assaulting an officer in pursuit of his duty is what makes it so bad, Mike. I'll have to pick you up if you show your mug in Miami."
"All right, Will." Shayne sounded weary and beaten. "I guess I do have a way of making it tough on my friends. You've gone the limit for me plenty of times and I know it. I'm calling from Twentieth and Biscayne if you want to send a car to pick me up."
"Aw, now, you know how it is, Mike. I've got a job of my own to look out for. I can't just outright refuse to pinch a man because he happens to be a friend."
"I know it, Will. I'm a heel for expecting friendship to stretch that far." Waiting tensely at his end of the line, Shayne heard a smothered curse come over the wire. His lips slowly twisted into a grin as Gentry spoke again:
"You know I'd do anything within reason for you. Take the Thrip boy, for instance. Did you hear about him being picked up in an alley beat half to death by an unidentified mob--and robbed?"
"Yeh. I heard about that, Will." Shayne's voice was warm. "That was white of you. I wouldn't have blamed you if you'd grabbed me for that. I'm not squawking. 1 know when I get out of bounds. Come on and pick me up and get the credit for it. There'll be plenty of credit. The morning papers will say I've gone berserk. Maybe I have. I just wanted to stay out of jail long enough to find Phyllis and bring her back home, but--I guess the cards are stacked against me this time."
"Phyllis? Your wife, you mean? What in God's name has happened to her, Mike?"
"I don't know," Shayne groaned hollowly. "A fate worse than death maybe. You know how impulsive she is. Well, she--but, hell! You can't worry about that at a time like this."
"Damn it, you know I'm worried, Mike. I love that girl like she was my own. What are you covering up?"
"Nothing, Will. She's probably all right. You know how jittery a man gets."
"I never knew you to be jittery before." Will Gentry's voice was very stern. "If your wife's in some trouble--"
"She's just a kid. Doesn't know what the score is. Dumb enough to think her husband isn't a murderer and to try and help him prove it. That's why it's going to hurt like hell while I lie up in Painter's jail knowing that whatever happens to her will be on account of her being so lamebrained as to love a louse like me."
"Quit your stalling," Gentry snapped impatiently. "If Phyllis is in any danger, let's do something."
"Yeh. I'd better tell you before they lock me up so you can do what you can. She left me a note this morning saying she was going out to help me solve the Thrip case. She went straight to Carl Meldrum without knowing that he's a maniac. She's so damned innocent, Will--" Shayne's voice faltered convincingly.
"Meldrum? That's the bird at the Palace Hotel on the Beach. I've got a man waiting to pick him up now."
"Yeh, but he and Phyllis went off together before your man got there and they haven't come back. I think I know where I can find him tonight, but hell! that won't do me any good if I'm in jail."
"You're not in jail yet, you damned fool. I can't arrest you if I can't find you."
Shayne said, "Well--but--"
"No buts about it. Duck out of there and forget you called me."
"You've got your job to think about," Shayne reminded him, "and Painter will be riding you hard."
Will Gentry cursed him fervently, then ended with a snarl: "I was running this department when Painter was wearing a safety pin instead of a belt buckle. Just keep out of sight, Mike."
"Well, if you want to know where not to look," Shayne suggested, "I'm on my way out to the Tally-Ho."
"Good. That's outside the city limits. I don't think the sheriff is looking for you yet."
Shayne said, "All I ask is a few hours, Will." He hung up and hurried out to the curb, stepped in his car, and sped north on the boulevard.
* * * *
It was too early for much of a crowd to be at the Tally-Ho when Shayne turned off the boulevard to the right toward neon lights showing through lacy palm fronds. The night club was backed up against the western shore of the bay, alone and secluded in the midst of a palmetto-grown strip which had been subdivided during the boom, but never built up.
The floodlighted parking-lot wasn't more than a third full of cars and the dimly illumined tropical gardens surrounding the two-story stucco structure were deserted at this hour of the early evening.
Inside the clubhouse, an air of subdued magnificence was calculated to overawe the unwary and loosen their purse strings to meet the high cost of the entertainment offered.
Shayne traded his trench coat and hat for a check and a smile from a blonde behind the check counter, strolled to the door of the main downstairs dining-room for a quick gander inside, then went back through a well-lined bar to the gaming-rooms in the rear which were occupied mostly by croupiers and dealers waiting for the late play to begin.
After a leisurely circuit of the rear he came back through the bar, went on to the dining-room without seeing a familiar face. He knew there were private rooms upstairs where anything could and did happen, but he saved an investigation of them until later when they were more likely to be in use.
The headwaiter didn't recognize the detective, but his eyes lighted with recognition for the twenty-dollar bill in Shayne's hand when Shayne asked:
"Do you know Carl Meldrum by sight?"
"Yes, sir. He's one of our regular patrons. It's a little early for him."
"Is Miss Thrip here?"
"Miss Thrip? I don't know the young lady by name, sir."
Shayne nodded shortly and moved toward a vacant table near the door, disregarding the waiter's suggestion that he could arrange a ringside seat for the floor show which was soon to begin.
Shayne said, "This will be all right," and selected a chair backed against the wall where he could see every person who entered and survey the entire dining-room.
A waitress, appropriately attired in a short red hunting-jacket, pink tights, and patent leather boots, approached his table at once to place the Tally-Ho's menu sheet before him.
Without glancing at the menu, Shayne said, "Four sidecars and a planked steak for two. Make it hot on both sides but not in the middle."
When she went away, Shayne leaned back and lit a cigarette, began a careful study of the half hundred or more couples at the tables next to the roped-off square where the floor show would be held.
He had finished less than half of his keen survey of faces when a girl glided up to his table. She had black, square-cut bangs and a white-toothed smile. She was sheathed in a tight evening gown of emerald green biased by darker stripes which reminded Shayne of garden snakes. Its V-front ended alarmingly close to her navel.
The girl asked, "Waiting for someone, big boy?" and started to pull out a chair. Shayne said, "Yes," and she hesitated, then cajoled: "No use being lonesome while you're waiting. How'd you like to buy me a drink?"
Shayne said gently, "Go sell your bill of goods to some sucker, sister."
The waitress brought Shayne's sidecars and ranged them in front of him just as the ceiling lights dimmed, leaving only the dim bulbs of cleverly designed coconut-shell lamps glowing on individual tables.
The orchestra struck up a two-four time medley and twin floodlights covered two short flights of steps down which a bevy of nude young girls tripped in a rhythmic dance.
Shayne gulped down half of one sidecar and settled back with his left arm crooked over the back of the chair, holding the glass in his right hand. From a distance and in the soft glow of varicolored sprays of the spotlights, the girls were alluring, claiming his attention. They appeared entirely nude except for silk triangles apparently held in place by nothing at all.
They paraded around the square, dancing, holding out their arms, coyly inclining their heads to flirt with the males whose tables crowded close to the ropes.
Shayne looked on through half-closed eyes for a time, then swore to himself because the lights were too dim to see the faces of the couples who entered the dining-room and were led to tables by waiters.
The girls were trooping back toward the twin flights of steps. The leaders swerved, and instead of dancing up the stairs to the dressing-rooms, tripped up side steps leading out among the tables scattered all over the room.
Shayne straightened, drank the last of the sidecar, and sat with his arms folded on the table. The dancing girls moved toward the outer tables, moving their arms snakily, flirting as they passed along.
When they passed his way, he could have reached out and touched them. But he didn't. At close range he saw that a puttylike substance covered their full breasts, lifting them high, and that the putty was beginning to crack. A vivid brunette paused briefly at his table, cocked her head coyly, and moved her arms as if to encircle his neck.
Shayne looked up and grinned. "Wash that damn stuff off and you'll have something, baby," he muttered.
He turned his entire attention to the three sidecars in front of him, pouring down two-thirds of the second one as the waitress approached with his steak. She set it before him and waited while he pierced it with a sharp knife. A rich red color showed between the browned sides of the thick slab of meat and Shayne nodded his satisfaction.
He detained the waitress when she started away: "Is Mona busy right now?"
"Mona Tabor? I don't think she's here yet. I'll find out."
Shayne said, "I wish you would."
He started on the third sidecar, and in less than a minute the waitress came back to report, "Mona hasn't come yet. She phoned that she'd be late. I can get one of the other hostesses," she offered with an obliging smile.
Shayne told her not to bother and attacked his steak after draining the third sidecar glass.
The orchestra tuned up again with swing music. A G-stringed girl and a man in top hat and evening clothes came onto the dance floor and got in the groove. In spite of the music, Shayne was interested in the eccentric dance.
He tossed off his fourth sidecar and came to the morose conclusion that he was getting old.
Dorothy Thrip came in between floor-show acts when the ceiling lights were on. Her black sequin dinner gown glittered and there were rhinestone clips in her hair. She stopped just inside the doorway and asked the headwaiter a question. He shook his head and said something, nodding toward Michael Shayne.
Dorothy turned her head slowly to look at him. Shayne had just sopped up the last drop of hot blood on a piece of bread. He waved it at her, then stuck it in his big mouth.
She didn't return his greeting. She followed the head-waiter down the aisle to a vacant table which also commanded a view of the entrance, and sat down alone.
Shayne crooked a finger at his waitress, who appeared to have as many eyes as she had patrons for she glided to his table instantly. Shayne ordered a quart of 1932 Du Blanc Port and leaned back to light a cigarette. The lights dimmed again and a breathy female of large proportions gave a fair imitation of Sophie Tucker in a stepped-up version of Frankie and Johnnie.
Shayne didn't like Sophie and he detested fat women who imitated her. The crowd liked it, though. By the dim lights at the tables he saw them whisper, laugh boisterously, and applaud noisily the more vulgar lines. The dining-room was filling up rapidly and the smoky air held an acrid bite of marijuana along with the sickening sweet of Turkish blends.
During the intermission, Shayne watched the close-packed dancers who swarmed onto the small square of polished floor. Many of them were obviously muggled with marijuana; Shayne guessed the cute little cigarette girls were peddling reefers openly among the patrons. That would account for the number of private rooms upstairs and the rumors that filtered out of the Tally-Ho.
Shayne could see Dorothy Thrip alone at her table, her cold round eyes fixed on the door. She showed no symptoms of nervousness nor any hint that she feared Carl Meldrum might not come.
Shayne's waitress glided up and said, "Mona just got here. I told her a gentleman was asking for her and she'll be right over."
Shayne thanked her and slid a dollar bill into her palm. He kept faced away from the rear toward the door for fear Mona mightn't come if she saw who had been asking for her, and he was rewarded after a time by hearing someone stop at his table and utter a smothered gasp of recognition.
He turned slowly, pushed his chair back, and stood up. Mona's lips were twisted sullenly and there was a tight, hard look about her face. She looked as though she was on the point of turning away, then tossed her head and said, "It's you. I might have known it would be." Her voice was low, her body and manner as splendidly poised as when Shayne first saw her. Her copper hair gleamed, a becoming coiffure above an evening gown of purest white which gave her a deceptively virginal appearance.
Shayne nodded to the hovering waitress to bring another wineglass. He drew out a chair for Mona, and after a moment's hesitation she sat down. He gave her a cigarette and lit it, then poured her a glass of the excellent port.
She drank the wine and made a face, complaining, "What kind of stuff is this for a redheaded he-man to be drinking?"
"I'm just a sissy," Shayne admitted. "I suppose you don't think much of my cigarettes, either."
She grimaced and tapped her cigarette against the ash tray on the table. "They'll do," she said indifferently. "I don't go for marijuana, if that's what you mean."
"It wouldn't mix so well with absinthe," Shayne told her. He gestured toward the crowded dance floor. "Plenty of floaters out there, though."
"Sure. That's one reason a hostess has a hard time being decent in this joint. Too much nonprofessional competition from the girls who get high." Her voice held an undercurrent of discontent. It was as though she held back with an effort to keep from exploding.
Shayne studied her face with frank, wide eyes. "Seen Carl Meldrum today?" he asked after a little silence.
"Does it mean anything to you whether I have or not?"
"Not much. You haven't," he answered for her after a brief study of her eyes. "Are you expecting him here tonight?"
"I never expect him any more," she said with some bitterness.
Shayne motioned toward Dorothy Thrip sitting alone several tables away. "Looks as if Miss Thrip was waiting for someone."
Mona moved languid eyes in the girl's direction. "Oh--her. She's always getting in Carl's hair."
"She'll soon have a lot of cash at her disposal," Shayne murmured.
For a moment Mona's defenses were down before a surge of emotions which seemed compounded of anger and fear. "She won't have it long after Carl takes her over the hurdles." Then, getting a firm grip on her emotions, she looked levelly at Shayne and said indifferently, "Why don't you give up your crazy idea of hanging the old lady's murder on someone else? Darnell's already dead and buried. Why strain yourself to bring grief to anyone else?"
Shayne's eyes grew stubborn before her pleading gaze. "I told you how I stood on that. I'd just as soon have you as Renslow or Meldrum."
"That's twice you've made that kind of a crack about me," she slid out. "Where do you get that stuff?"
"You're one of my best suspects," he told her cheerfully. "You've got the physical strength for it--and a snootful of absinthe does funny things to people. Carl is covering up for somebody--maybe it's you." Shayne set his wineglass down and opened the fingers of his left hand, began touching them off with the forefinger of his right hand. "Now, Carl could have let you into the Thrip home last night; or you might have made an impression of his key." He touched the third and middle finger, saying, "You have got some string on Meldrum that makes you certain he'll come to you with any money he picks up--you might have got tired of waiting for his notes to have any effect on Leora Thrip--and you're willing for him to play the girl for her money. Hell," he added, brightening and picking up his wineglass, "I didn't know it did fit so well. He didn't know what you were planning on, so he went ahead and mailed that note that night." He raised the glass to his lips and drank. "Nothing like talking things over to make them come clear."
Mona's eyes were wide upon him; in the dim light they seemed the exact color of her henna-colored hair. "What are these notes you're talking about? First you accuse Buell Renslow of writing them--then Carl."
Shayne looked at her with a sort of vague admiration in his gray eyes. "Upon those notes, my dear possible murderess, hangs the solution of as weird a crime as I've ever tackled." He poured both wineglasses full from the quart bottle, emptying it. "Renslow would be glad enough to hang it on Carl," he went on argumentatively. "I hope neither of you thought I was fooling this noon when I said I was going to throw somebody to the wolves."
"And you don't care whether it's the guilty person or not," Mona charged. "You'd frame any one of us if you saw a chance to do it."
"Sure." Shayne drank some wine. "I'd frame any one of you I thought was guilty," he explained. "But you're wrong about thinking I'd hang anything on a person I believed innocent."
"Very generous of you," Mona answered ironically, "but it would still be a frame."
Shayne emptied his wineglass and raised ragged red brows in a cynical grin. "I might have to manufacture some evidence to convince the police," he admitted. "Painter is so bullheaded he's going to take a lot of convincing." He paused, then added musingly, "I had a hunch Renslow would offer you enough to overcome your objections to our idea of fitting Carl for the trap when I left you two together today."
"He did make me an offer." Mona's tone was sullen, brooding.
"Not big enough to wean you away from your husband?"
"Say!" Mona threw him a startled glance. "How'd you know--" She checked her words with a sharp intake of breath, after which she clamped her lips.
"Smart guessing," Shayne told her. "You said you were married and not working at it very hard. You seemed absolutely certain of your string on Carl." He shrugged. "It wasn't hard to dope out. Does Renslow know?"
"No. Why should he?"
"He might raise the ante if you told him how it was."
"We didn't go into that very far," Mona admitted. "Maybe he would."
"If you drank much absinthe after I left, you weren't in any condition--" Shayne was looking past her and saw Buell Renslow standing in the entrance. He wore a dinner jacket and looked immaculate, but his eyes were bloodshot and veins showed in his face.
Shayne glanced across at Dorothy Thrip and saw her looking at her step-uncle without apparent recognition. Renslow saw Mona and Shayne sitting together. He moved toward their table after a moment's hesitation.
Shayne muttered, "Here's your drinking companion now--coming straight toward our table. Want to duck out?"
Mona turned to look at Renslow and pushed her chair back. With loud vivacity she said, "I've wasted too much time at one table, redhead. I got to be circulating." She nodded casually to Renslow as she went away.
When the white-haired ex-convict sat down heavily in the chair she had vacated, Shayne greeted him cheerfully.
"You look like the fag-end of a misspent life, fellow. What are you drinking?"
"Nothing for me, thanks." Renslow's eyes followed Mona across the room. He complained, "I've got the jitters."
"That's all there was to drink after your bottle was emptied."
"And I'll bet she's the kind that'll keep on at it indefinitely," Shayne offered sympathetically.
Renslow nodded. He seemed withdrawn, remote from everything about him, with that same quality of secretive stillness which had characterized his sister, Leora Thrip.
"Did the party just break up?" Shayne asked after a while.
"About an hour ago. I've been home washing the green taste out of my mouth with peroxide."
"Try a glass of beer," Shayne suggested.
Renslow shuddered. "Not yet. After a while maybe." A uniformed attendant of the Tally-Ho was threading his way between tables toward them. As he passed, he paused at each table to ask a question, but evidently, Shayne noticed, he was receiving negative responses.
Renslow puffed jerkily on a cigarette and he and the detective watched the attendant approach.
Michael Shayne had one of his Irish hunches that destiny approached him as the man came on. He didn't know what it was that told him, but there was an odd tremor playing over his spine as the callboy came up, asking, "Mr. Buell Renslow?"
Renslow nodded and the attendant handed him a sealed envelope. Shayne tossed him a quarter while Renslow tore the message open. Shayne watched him unfold a single sheet of paper and read the few typed lines on it.
Renslow kept staring at the paper and his fingers tightened spasmodically. His knuckles were white and the paper shook in his grip. A wave of sickness swept over his face and Shayne leaned forward to ask sympathetically, "Bad news, old man?" straining to get a glimpse of the words but seeing only the signature of Carl Meldrum in heavy pen strokes.
Renslow looked up quickly, crushing the message in his hands. "No--it's--" His expression hardened. He looked past Shayne and his eyes were tortured with something that went beyond the limits of physical fear. "It's a joke," he said hoarsely, "a--lousy joke."
His fingers folded the note and began tearing it in long strips. His gaze was still remotely on nothing, on a shadowy something which no other man could see. He said, "Excuse me," and got up. He dropped the torn bits of paper on the table and walked away stiffly.
Shayne watched Mona come up and intercept him on his way to the door. It seemed to him that she must have been watching, as though she had waited for something like this to happen.
She spoke to him and he snarled an answer. Mona's eyes widened and she appeared to protest.
Renslow started for the door and she clung to him. He pushed her off, then deliberately slapped her face with the full force of a wide open-handed swing.
She went to her knees crying out something unintelligible to Shayne. Renslow darted away while waiters began to converge on the spot. Shayne watched them help Mona to her feet, then he began gathering up the torn strips of paper the ex-convict had dropped.
It was a laborious business getting them pieced together in order. It took him a full half-hour of concentrated work to put together this much:
--Saw yo--urder Mrs.--rip--willing--talk it oner--midnight--meet--at 306 Terrace Apt--Oth--wis--am go--to the--lice.
He slid the pieces of paper into his coat pocket and jumped up. Pausing to drop a ten-spot on the table, he hurried out and retrieved his hat and coat. Dorothy Thrip had disappeared while he was working on the torn note.
In his car he drove at savage speed down the boulevard to Ninety-Sixth, where he made a screaming right-hand turn to the Grand Concourse which angled down to Northeast Second Avenue.
It took him less than five minutes to reach the Terrace Apartments in Little River, but he knew he was too late when he slowed to turn off the avenue onto the side street where he had parked earlier in the day.
Police cars lined the curb in front of the apartment building and excited residents of the district crowded the wide lawn where children had played in the sunlight that noon.
Shayne rolled past the police cars, cut his ignition, and parked. He lit a cigarette and sat behind the wheel for a moment, then shook his head angrily and got out- If he had trailed Renslow when he left--
He hadn't. Instead, he had stopped to put the note together. He got out and went toward the apartment building. His mouth was dry and he wondered where Phyllis was.
* * * *
A MAN SAYS THINGS
There were police all over the place. A thick-necked sergeant recognized Shayne as he crossed the lobby, and he stepped forward to intercept him. He took Shayne by the arm and said gruffly:
"What you wanta pop up here for, Mike? We got a pickup on you for the Beach in case you don't know."
Shayne said, "I know, Shannon. Is the chief upstairs?"
"Yeh. Three-o-six." They moved toward the elevator together. "You could duck out the back way right now," Shannon muttered. "I'll see that the boys stay clammed up."
A frightened Negro operator was waiting to take them up in the elevator. He rolled his eyes at the burly sergeant with the redheaded detective, clanged the door shut, and went up to the third floor without waiting for an order.
A couple of cops outside 306 were holding back an excited and morbidly curious group of chattering tenants. They stepped aside to let Shannon push Shayne through.
A police photographer had his tripod set up and was shooting pictures of the interior of Mona Tabor's apartment with the body of Carl Meldrum lying in the center of the floor. His forehead was smashed and there were dried trickles of blood on his heavy cheek. His mouth gaped open, showing bloodless gums. He didn't look much like a dashing Don Juan. There was a bloody cognac bottle on the floor beside him.
Two men were methodically getting fingerprints from objects in the room, and the sound of subdued voices came out through the open bedroom door.
Shayne and the sergeant walked around the body to the door. Buell Renslow was sitting upright on the unmade bed, and Will Gentry stood solidly in front of him. Two detectives lounged in the background. Renslow's wrists were handcuffed in front of him. His clothes were mussed and there was a bruise and a small cut under his right eye. Haunted eyes stared out of his ashen face and his lips twitched back from his teeth.
Gentry was saying, "That sort of story isn't going to get you anywhere. Nobody else saw any girl. You're the only outsider the elevator boy brought up tonight. You might as well come clean and get it off your mind."
Renslow looked past him and his eyes lighted up when they saw Michael Shayne in the doorway. He croaked, "There's Shayne. He'll tell you when I left the Tally-Ho. He'll tell you I couldn't have got here in time to kill him." His eyes appealed to Shayne, then his lids batted down several times in quick succession, as if he tried to send a secret message.
Gentry turned slowly. He said, "Hello, Mike. I've been wondering when you would turn up."
Shayne nodded and stepped forward with hands in his coat pockets. He avoided meeting the frantic petition in Renslow's eyes. He asked, "What goes here?"
Will Gentry gestured disgustedly toward the prisoner. "We walked in on this bird red-handed and he gives us a nutty story about getting here after it happened. He swears he doesn't know a damned thing about it. Says you'll alibi him."
"What about some girl?"
"That's the craziest part of his story," Gentry snorted. His back was to Renslow and he dropped his right eyelid in a slow, significant wink for Shayne. "He claims this girl was in there with the corpse when he opened the door. She threw down on him with a .25 automatic and he jumped her. He says they wrestled over the pistol and he finally got it, but she sprinted out and did a neat disappearing act."
"That's the way it happened," Renslow said hoarsely. "She must have slipped down the stairs while you were coming up the elevator. If you'll just look for her--"
"We've got the description you gave us on the radio," Gentry said patiently over his shoulder, then went on to Shayne: "This guy's a quick thinker all right. He had a description of the girl on tap. If he's telling the truth maybe you'll recognize her--maybe you've run into her with your fooling around on the Thrip case. Here's what he says she looked like..." He described Phyllis in detail, while holding the detective's gaze fixedly.
Shayne's frown became deeper and his expression more perplexed as Gentry finished. He shook his head and said placidly, "Why, no, Will. I'm pretty sure there's no one like that mixed up in this case. Just grabbing for an out, I guess."
"That's what I thought," Gentry told him briskly. "Just for the record, you might bust the alibi he claims you can give him."
"When did you fellows get here?" Shayne asked guardedly.
"Eleven-fifty-five. We got a riot call from the landlady at eleven-fifty. She screamed murder in apartment three-o-six and a radio car was here in five minutes."
Shayne hunched his shoulders up and shook his head. "I'm afraid I can't alibi him. He left the Tally-Ho at I eleven-thirty-eight--I looked at my watch. It's an easy ten-minute drive."
An animal snarl came from deep in Renslow's throat and twisted on his lips. "You dirty bastard! You dirty double-crossing cop. You're all alike. Putting me on the spot, damn your soul to hell. Not me! Not this time!"
He came to his feet with a rush, swinging his manacled arms high.
Gentry and Shayne grabbed him and pushed him down on the bed. His features were fearfully contorted and he wheezed loudly between tight lips.
Gentry said sharply to his two men, "Watch him, you lugs," then turned to Shayne. "Maybe you know how he figures in this, Mike. The dead man is the Carl Meldrum you were talking about this morning in connection with the Thrip killing. And this is Mona Tabor's apartment. Is there any tie-up, or is this something different?"
"I've told you I don't know anything about the other," Renslow panted from behind them. "I just came to see Mona and I walked into a murder."
Gentry disregarded the ex-convict's outburst, regarding Shayne gravely. "How about it, Mike?"
Shayne's eyebrows were drawn down and there were three deep creases flaring out from between his eyes. He asked gently, "Do you know who you've got handcuffed, Will?"'
"No. He's got no identification on him and he refuses to tell his name."
"His name," said private detective Michael Shayne with a faint note of pity, "is Buell Renslow. He just happens to be Leora Thrip's brother--an ex-convict who did a stretch in Colorado for murder. Is that answer enough, Will?"
Curses were frothing out of Renslow's mouth in a deadly monotone.
Will Gentry nodded briskly. "I'd say that was plenty. Do you think he was hooked up in his sister's death?"
Shayne didn't answer at once. He was tugging at the lobe of his left ear and he looked perplexed. The two detectives were holding Renslow while he cursed Shayne and Gentry impartially.
At last Shayne said, "To tell the absolute truth, Will, I'm pretty sure I have positive evidence that Renslow murdered Mrs. Thrip last night--that he killed Meldrum to keep him from talking."
"Shut up," Renslow raged. "Are you forgetting that million I promised--"
"Good for you, Mike," Gentry exulted. "Damned if you don't always pull one out of the bag when you need it the worst." He moved away from the bed, adding over his shoulder, "Take this mug down and book him on suspicion of murder."
Shayne drew back with Gentry, keeping a placidly unconcerned countenance when Renslow broke into rasping sobs as he was led away.
Gentry followed them into the outer room and conferred briefly with his homicide experts, then came back and closed the bedroom door.
Shayne had sunk into a rocking-chair near the window and had a cigarette going. His head was tilted back and he watched whorls of blue smoke eddy up toward the ceiling.
Gentry sat down heavily and lit a cigar. The silence became oppressive. Gentry twisted uneasily and finally asked, "How about it, Mike?"
"How about what?"
"Well--you know, damn it. Your wife, mostly."
Shayne got up. He turned his back on the chief of Miami detectives and took two short strides to the opposite wall. He stopped, facing it, and his voice was muffled.
"What about Phyllis?"
"Better talk it out right now," Gentry advised. "There'll never be a better time. I had to put her description on the radio."
Shayne whirled on the older man. "Why did you have to? You could have stalled it. I thought you were my friend. Hell!"
Gentry said, "Don't, Mike."
"Why not?" Shayne's nostrils were widely flared, his eyes crazy. He leaned his shoulders against the wall and put his hands deep in the slash pockets of his belted trench coat. "Why shouldn't I say it out loud? I trusted you, like a damned fool. I told you Phyl had gone to Meldrum to help me out. Your damned flatfeet are out hunting her now. They'll drag her in off the street and throw her in the can with a lot of whores. And you ask me what about my wife!"
Will Gentry had let his cigar go out. He looked old and wearied, dismayed. He said, "You know I'll do what I can."
"I'll bury my own dead after this. I don't want any help from you."
Will Gentry stood up. His blunt jaw was thrust out, but there was pity in his eyes. "Don't say things you'll regret, Mike. We've been through some tough spots together."
"To hell with that stuff." Shayne made a savage gesture. "When it comes to a showdown you let me down flat. On the word of an ex-convict you send out a pickup for my wife."
"I didn't know he was an ex-con. And if I had, I still would have had to play it that way. I don't believe his story, Mike. I didn't believe it from the first."
"Then why didn't you wait to send out Phyl's description?"
"Be reasonable," Gentry begged. He mopped sweat from his forehead. "You know the police business. If you'd put yourself in my place--"
Shayne strode to a chair and dropped into it. He rubbed the palm of his hand down over his eyes and face and chin. "Yeh, I--I guess I am going off half cocked."
Gentry watched him hopefully. He pulled out the fingers of his left hand, cracked each big knuckle with intent concentration. He blew out a deep sigh of relief and sat down to relight his cigar.
Shayne asked, "Where's the pistol Renslow said he took from Phyl?"
"Right here." Gentry drew a .25 automatic from his coat pocket. "No prints on it and that's a funny thing if they wrestled over it like he said."
Shayne took the tiny flat gun and turned it over and over in his hands. "Renslow probably got panicky and rubbed them off." He lifted the pistol to his nose and sniffed the muzzle.
"It's been shot--once," Gentry told him.
Shayne looked straight into his eyes. "Was Meldrum shot with it?"
"Doc Evans couldn't find a wound," Gentry hedged. "He said, though, that there might be a slug in his head with the wound covered by the blow he received. He'll check in the post-mortem."
Shayne's eyes brooded over the little gun in his hand. Without looking at Gentry he asked, "How do you figure it this far?"
"I can't do much figuring with no more to go on," Gentry complained. "Did Renslow know Phyllis?"
"No. He had never seen her."
"Then she must have been here," Gentry pointed out wearily. "He couldn't have described her otherwise."
"How do you know he was describing Phyl?" Shayne flared. "Hell! his description could fit a hundred women in Miami just as well."
"Not women who are known to have spent the day with Meldrum. You told me yourself--"
"Forget what I told you. That's when I thought I could trust you."
"Look, Mike. This isn't getting you anywhere. The clerk at the hotel--a lot of people must know Phyllis was with Meldrum. Let's look at it that way. Maybe she came here with him. Maybe he--maybe she had to shoot him to protect herself."
"And then busted his head open with a brandy bottle?" Shayne asked angrily.
"Well, a twenty-five bullet in the head might not stop him," Gentry argued. "Depend where it went in and what bone it hit. Suppose it did happen that way? Phyllis will be in the clear. With Meldrum's reputation--"
Shayne stood up. "Damn you," he said thickly, "you're twisting it around to fit Renslow's story. I'm not admitting Phyl was here at all."
Gentry didn't say anything. He held out his hand for the automatic. After a moment's hesitation, Shayne dropped it into his palm. Gentry slipped it into his pocket and his expression hardened. He stood up to face the man who had been his friend for ten years.
He said, "I won't take much more of that, Mike. I've pulled your chestnuts out of the fire plenty of times but I've always done it because I believed you were on the level. I won't go along any other way."
"You'll take whatever I want to hand out," Shayne muttered.
"No." Will Gentry shook his head. "You're not yourself. You're drunk and you're crazy mad and worried about Phyllis, Mike."
For a long moment Shayne stared down into Gentry's face. The chief stared back patiently. Shayne nodded and his laugh was ugly. "Okay. If that's the way you want it."
"That's the way it has to be. This gun can be traced." Gentry patted his pocket. "If it belongs to you or your wife, she'll have to explain how it got here."
"And if it doesn't?" Shayne challenged.
Gentry shrugged. "Then we'll check on the owner, of course." He paused to rub his chin, then burst out suddenly:
"Come clean with me, Mike! How can I help you if you won't let me? You said you had evidence that Renslow killed his sister, and had to kill Meldrum to stay clean. What is your evidence? Turn it over to me and if it's good enough to stand up, why, the whole thing will be ended."
"I was talking through my hat," Shayne muttered. "When I realized Phyllis had been here and he was trying to pin the killing on her I talked fast to get you to put him away."
"I don't like that," Gentry said. "You didn't have to lie to me."
"Maybe it wasn't a lie. Maybe I'll pop up with the evidence yet."
"Be damned sure it's not faked," Gentry warned him.
"Have you ever caught me framing an innocent man?" Swift anger crackled in Shayne's voice.
"No. Nobody has ever caught you, Mike. Personally, I've never believed you'd do it. But I believe you're in a mood right now to frame anybody to clear Phyllis in this mess."
"Maybe I won't have to pull a frame. Maybe you'll decide it wasn't Phyllis after you check up on that pistol."
Gentry studied him in open bewilderment. "Are you playing another one of your little games for cash? Won't Renslow come into a batch of Mrs. Thrip's money if he isn't booked for murdering her?"
"A few million," Shayne admitted placidly.
"You weren't lying when you first mentioned the evidence against him," Gentry charged. "I know when a man's telling the truth. You were worried about your wife and blurted it out. Later you got to thinking how much it might be worth to keep that evidence hidden, and I'll be eternally damned if I don't believe you'd leave Phyllis in jeopardy for a million bucks."
Michael Shayne grinned a crooked grin. Cords stood out on either side of his jaw. "That's a pretty hard thing to say about a man."
"And I'm sorry you made me say it. But what else did Renslow mean when he mentioned the million you were throwing away? By God, it makes me want to vomit."
"Go on and vomit," Shayne advised him coldly. He was composed now, with an iron grip on himself. The smile on his mouth was sardonic. "A man can get a lot of women for a million dollars. I almost fooled you with my act about Phyllis, didn't I?"
Will Gentry backed away from him, shaking his head. "I've always stood up for you, Mike. I've always said there was a streak of decency buried under your toughness. But now--I don't know."
"How touching." Shayne's voice was acid. "Why don't you preach me a sermon on the sanctity of marriage and a husband's duty to cleave to his wife even though she is a murderess? That's what you think, isn't it?"
"Shut up, Mike. You're talking like a fool," Gentry snapped.
"I'm saying what you're thinking. To hell with it." He stalked toward the door angrily.
Gentry followed after him. "Where do you think you're going?"
"Out." Shayne kept moving.
"There's a Miami Beach warrant for you."
"Somebody'll get killed if they try to serve it." Shayne kept on going.
Gentry stopped and moodily watched him go into the living-room. Meldrum's body had been taken away but there was still a group of policemen in the room.
They started to intercept Shayne but behind them Gentry shook his head and said, "No."
Shayne went out to the elevator. He rang for a car and waited. There was no color in his cheeks, no expression on his face. He got in the car and went down, strode through the lobby without looking to right or left.
Most of the police cars were gone from in front of the building and the crowd had been dispersed. He got in his roadster and drove away slowly, keeping a careful watch behind him and making very certain that he was not being tailed.
He switched his radio to short wave and began picking up police calls when he hit the boulevard and turned south toward the city. After a couple of routine stolen car announcements, the police announcer droned:
"Supplementing description of woman wanted for questioning in murder as broadcast at twelve-three; supplementing description of woman murder suspect: This woman has been tentatively identified as Mrs. Michael Shayne--Mrs. Michael Shayne--wife of the private detective also being sought. Cover all known places frequented by this couple; cover the Shayne home address and any friends or relatives with whom either might communicate. Arrest either Mr. or Mrs. Michael Shayne. That is all."
Michael Shayne lifted one sweaty hand and then the other from the steering-wheel and wiped them dry on his coat. He stared straight ahead down the almost deserted boulevard and his body jerked with craving for a drink.
The police announcement was Will Gentry's answer to the scene in Mona Tabor's apartment. A part of Shayne did not blame Gentry. He had a police job to do, and Shayne had made it tough on him.
But deep down inside a sick anger throbbed through Shayne's body like the gnawing of a cancer. Will Gentry should have trusted him. Wasn't there enough between hem for that? He'd never let Gentry down in the past. Wasn't that enough?
Evidently not. Sure, he had gone off his kazip and said me things he didn't mean up there in the apartment. That shouldn't have mattered either. A man says things he doesn't mean--
Shayne felt wholly alone for the first time in his life. It wasn't a good feeling. He had played a lone game in the past but there had always been that good inward feeling that he had one friend who was backing him to the limit and beyond. Well, he knew where Gentry stood now. That was something. Mike Shayne had never been one to sugar-coat distasteful facts. Part of his lone wolf tactics in the past had been the result of pride. There had been a savage thrill in playing fast and loose against every conventional morality and coming out on top against tremendous odds. That thrill was gone now. He was up against something different.
He wondered where in God's name Phyllis was.
Despite the warmth of the Miami night he shivered. Wanting Phyllis was a physical pain that stabbed through the whole length of him. What had actually happened up in that apartment before the police came? He had lied about the time Renslow left the Tally-Ho. He didn't know what time it was. He hadn't looked at his watch. It had been an instinctive lie to gain a little time to think things out.
Had Renslow reached the apartment after murder was done? The pistol had been fired only once. He couldn't be sure, of course, but it looked exactly like the automatic Dora had brought to his apartment to kill him with--the pistol that had disappeared from the desk drawer coincident with Phyllis's departure.
Dora had fired one bullet from that pistol into the ceiling. Let them trace it to her--
If Phyl had gone to the apartment with Meldrum for his midnight interview and then been forced to resist an attack with the empty cognac bottle, why had she ducked out? That wasn't like Phyllis.
Still, Shayne had seen too much killing to figure it that way. The reaction to violent death causes people to do all sorts of crazy, impulsive things.
Why in hell hadn't he laid his cards on the table before Gentry? Those scraps of paper in his pocket were plenty to convict Buell Renslow of two murders. Was it because suppression of that evidence was worth a million dollars to Renslow? Was that the subconscious motivation that had prompted him to keep his mouth shut?
He didn't know. Mike Shayne had always tried to be honest with himself. He tried now, but it was no go. He discovered that no man can honestly say what impulse motivates a certain action. Maybe he was willing to throw Phyllis over for a million dollars. Gentry thought so. Maybe Gentry knew him better than Shayne knew himself.
He was nearing the lights of downtown Miami and he slowed to get a grip on himself. He couldn't go to his hotel. He hoped Phyllis would know she had been recognized and wouldn't go there.
He turned off the boulevard at Third Street, and parked his roadster in an all-night parking-lot. On foot, he made his way to an obscure side-street hotel where he kept his hat pulled low over his eyes and signed the register as Horatio Ramsey. The sleepy-eyed clerk assured him it would be possible to get a bottle of cognac when Shayne shoved a five-dollar bill across the desk, and the detective went up to a second-floor room where he jerked windows open to let a night breeze drive out the musty air.
He then went to a wall telephone and called his apartment hotel. The switchboard operator was off duty after midnight and the night clerk took the call. Shayne got a funny gurgle over the wire when he said, "Mike Shayne talking."
The clerk said nervously, "I see. Just a minute while I step inside and look that up for you."
Shayne waited, frowning at the cracked and yellow plaster in front of him. After a couple of minutes the clerk's voice came cautiously:
"Mr. Shayne, I was afraid to talk to you out there. The lobby--it's full of cops and--"
"I know. They're looking for me. What about Mrs. Shayne? Has she showed up or called?"
"Y-yes. That's what I wanted to tell you. They just arrested her. They've been waiting all evening and they grabbed her when she came in. Some of them are staying in the hope that you'll show up."
Shayne said, "They'll have a long wait. Thanks. Forget this call." He hung up, scowling darkly.
There was a knock at his door and he opened it cautiously. A boy stood there with a package. Shayne took it, closed the door, and worried the cork of a cognac bottle with his teeth. He held it tipped to his mouth for a long time, then moved across to the bed and sat down heavily.
His mouth wasn't dry any longer. At least he knew where Phyllis was. And, no matter what he had said to Gentry in anger, he knew the Miami police would make it as easy on her as they could.
He tilted the bottle again. He wasn't cold any more. A fevered glow was spreading out from the pit of his stomach. His brain was beginning to work again. He wasn't whipped yet--he still held a few trumps. Played right, he might start raking in a few tricks for a change.
Another drink would help him think things out. He took one, and it did.
* * * *
A HELL OF A TIME FOR VISITING
Shayne ordered a pot of paste and the hotel clerk sent it up at once. Taking a sheet of stationery from a scarred writing-table in one corner of his room, Shayne spread the torn strips of Meldrum's note out on the bed and went to work putting them together. It went much faster this time because he knew the words and letter combinations to look for. After laying every strip in its proper place, he carefully pasted them on the sheet of hotel stationery.
He took another drink and studied the result approvingly. Completed, the note clearly read:
I saw you murder Mrs. Thrip. I'm willing to talk it over at midnight if you will meet me at 306 Terrace Apts.
Otherwise I am going to the police.
There it was. A definite invitation to murder. Meldrum was clearly a fool, or still doped up, to have sent such a note. Or else he had woefully underestimated the man he sought to blackmail. He should have known that a man who had killed once would kill again to save himself.
Shayne shook his head fretfully. He wouldn't have guessed that Meldrum was foolhardy enough to invite attack upon himself.
Still, as Mike recollected the man's early-morning condition, his mind might not have been clear, in spite of the fact that he had gone out with Phyllis and appeared to be normal. And there was enough money involved for him to feel confident that the murderer would come across with plenty to silence the witness. After all, Renslow had mentioned a million to Shayne tonight. And with Mona Tabor on Meldrum's trail checking up for her share in what he might get from the Thrip girl or elsewhere--maybe Meldrum risked a lot to pay Mona off and be free.
The detective lay back on the bed and clasped big-knuckled hands behind his head, closed his eyes, and went back over the facts in the light of what he had learned today.
Meldrum's curious actions, which had appeared to be motivated by guilt, might be explained as well by this evidence that he had witnessed the crime. He must have been with Dorothy in her room, Shayne theorized, and in leaving had been attracted by the sounds of a death struggle in Mrs. Thrip's bedroom. Hating the victim, he would not be likely to interfere, but must have watched unseen from the doorway, then hurried downstairs with a secret which he knew was worth plenty of money to him if the murderer went otherwise unsuspected. He had then hurried to the Tally-Ho and arranged with Mona to fix him an alibi for the crime he had seen committed; then he had telephoned Dorothy and told her what to testify about his movements.
Why hadn't he been afraid Dorothy would suspect him of the crime? Probably he didn't care what she thought. He knew how she hated her stepmother.
In the meantime, unsuspecting, Joe Darnell had entered through the library window on schedule and crept upstairs to grab the thousand dollars Thrip had put out for him. Unluckily, he must have stepped into the bedroom just in time to be caught by Mr. Thrip. It would be only natural for Joe to go close to the woman to make sure his eyes didn't deceive him--that she was actually dead. Thrip would quite naturally shoot him down as the murderer of his wife without giving him an opportunity to explain.
Shayne moved restlessly and the bed creaked. He nodded his head slowly. It all hung together now. This pieced-together note was as good as a death warrant for Buell Renslow.
All he needed to do was to call Will Gentry and turn the note over to him. It would be a simple matter to get hold of the Tally-Ho callboy who had delivered it--and maybe some witnesses who had noticed Renslow's reaction and seen him tear it up and hurry out--
The thing was cut and dried. Another closed case with Joe Darnell absolved--an ex-convict convicted of double murder by overwhelming weight of evidence and public opinion.
Shayne grinned suddenly, thinking of Phyllis. This would absolve her of any guilt. He felt immensely relieved, but he grinned again, thinking that a little time in jail would make her think twice hereafter before pulling any more impulsive stunts trying to help him out..And there was another pleasant angle. His revenge on Peter Painter would be sweet after that inconsequential jackass had shot off his mouth so freely to the public and the press on the subject of Darnell's guilt.
But revenge didn't pay dividends, no matter how sweet it might be, and Michael Shayne had taken upon himself the obligations of a family man. What was there in the case for him? The taxpayers didn't pay him a salary for sitting on his butt and letting another man solve crimes for him, as they did to Peter Painter.
He shook his head worriedly, rubbing his chin and starring down blankly at the incriminating message. Hell! there had to be a cash angle if he could just see it. It was too simple this way. Nothing to get a man's teeth into. Shayne was accustomed to taking cases in his two hands and wringing them until some cash popped out. He couldn't rid himself of the thought of that million Renslow would pay to beat the rap. It seemed a damned shame to throw that away--to let Renslow's half of the estate revert to Arnold Thrip and his pair of no-good youngsters.
Shayne lit a cigarette and lay back on the creaking bed again to close his eyes and pass the whole thing in review. There had to be cash angle. His pride belligerently demanded that there be something in it for Mike Shayne.
He lay flat on his back for a long time, closing his eyes between puffs on his cigarette. The ashes fell off and dropped on his neck and chin. There was still that aching void inside his belly that had come when Gentry turned against him. He was sorry it had to be that way, but since it was--
Suddenly he heaved himself up, his eyes wide and bright. He paced back and forth excitedly in the narrow confines of the hotel room while minute details clicked into place.
Through, was he? Washed up in Miami? Maybe. But he didn't think so. Not yet, by God.
He went out of his room and downstairs to the lobby. He woke the sleeping clerk and explained that he had to type an important message. The clerk yawned and pointed out a typewriter in the inner office.
Shayne went in and sat down at the desk, rolled a sheet of hotel paper in the typewriter, and wrote:
I'm afraid to try to call you or come to the apartment because I've got a hunch Painter is laying for me. If you receive this all right, try to slip away and come to me here. I'm registered as Horatio Ramsey. Don't let them follow you.
He slid the sheet of paper into an envelope and addressed it with ink to Mrs. Michael Shayne at their hotel. He glanced over his shoulder and saw that the clerk was dozing again, found a plain sheet of paper with no letterhead, and rolled it into the machine. On this sheet he typed:
That damn private dick is finding out too much about last night. I'm going to have to skip without collecting from the girl. You'll make plenty off it and it's up to you to come across. If you don't give me getaway money and a split on the rest I'll swear you hired me to choke her. And don't try any rough stuff because I'm leaving a letter to be opened in case of my death telling how you planned it all and forced me to do it. Meet me at 306 Terrace Apartments at midnight.
Shayne rolled this out of the typewriter and slid it into his pocket. He went out to the clerk with the sealed envelope in his hand and the clerk called a dozing bellboy. Shayne gave him the envelope with a dollar bill and explicit instructions to deliver the note to Mrs. Shayne at the address written there, and to no one else.
He then hurried back to his room and went to work swiftly. He still had Meldrum's address book with samples of the dead man's handwriting. With that open before him, and with the patched-up signature on the authentic note, he forged Meldrum's name to the message he had just typed. He then tore it into strips, pasting each strip in sequence on a sheet of hotel paper.
When that was accomplished, he folded it carefully and placed it in his inside coat pocket. He rolled the mattress back and cut a slit in the bottom of the ticking and secreted the real note from Meldrum accusing Renslow of murder. Smoothing back the covers, he tilted a straight-backed chair against the wall and settled to await the results of his maneuverings.
He didn't have to wait long. A slow grin spread over his face when he heard the heavy tramp of feet in the corridor outside his room.
He turned the cognac bottle up and took a short drink while men stopped outside his door and held a whispered consultation. Then there was a loud, authoritative knock, and Shayne leisurely lit a cigarette.
The knocking came again, amplified by a gruff order: "Open up in there."
He got to his feet and went to the door. He turned the key and the knob, stepped back in simulated astonishment when he saw Will Gentry and Peter Painter in the corridor, accompanied by a squad of policemen.
Shayne exclaimed, "What the hell?" with his jaw dropping slackly, then seemed to regain control of himself and stepped aside. "This is a hell of a time to come visiting."
* * * *
SEIZURE AND SEARCH
Gentry strode heavily past Shayne and sat down on the edge of the bed, without looking at the detective.
Painter strutted in, whirled on Shayne angrily. The Miami Beach chief didn't look his usual dapper self. There was an ugly bruise on the side of his jaw where Shayne's fist had connected, and he appeared nervous and unstrung. Words tumbled from him in a staccato flood:
"It wasn't smart to knock me out, Shayne. Not by a damn sight. You can't turn mad dog and not be treated like one. Didn't you know you'd be tracked down with no chance to escape? Do you think you can flout every law in the land without paying for it?"
Shayne closed the door.
"I've done all right up to now," he rumbled. "I'm sorry I hit you--so easy. I should have broken your neck while I was about it." His gaze went past the angry little man to Will Gentry. "How'd you find me here?"
"Painter gets the credit. It was dumb of you to send that note, Mike. He's had a man planted there all evening hoping you'd do something like that." Gentry paused, eying Shayne steadily. "Didn't you know we had picked Phyllis up?"
Shayne said, "How would I know?"
"A hell of a mess you've got her into," Painter proclaimed. "If you were half a man you'd keep your women in the clear."
Shayne didn't look at him. He stood near the door with heavy shoulders hunched forward as though they bore a heavy burden. He stared hard at Gentry and asked, "What did Phyllis say about the Meldrum murder?"
Gentry glanced at Painter and said, "Sit down, Pete, and take it easy. You've got Shayne where you want him and he's not going to slug you again. I'm going to find out some things before we leave this room."
Painter backed toward a straight chair and perched on the very edge of it. "The only way you'll get the truth out of him is with a leaded hose," he snapped. "Give me thirty minutes with him and--"
"No." Gentry was unruffled. "You're still on my side of the bay, Painter. We'll go at this my way over here. And I've got a hunch you're going to drop the accessory to murder charge against Shayne before we get through. Eh, Mike?"
Shayne said, "I don't know, Will," in a voice that stubbornly refused to respond to friendly overtures. He sat down on the only other chair in the room.
"You'll have to prove it to me," Painter crackled. "Joe Darnell is still a murderer from where I sit. And if you do prove differently, there's still a charge of assault with intent to kill an officer of the law against this ape."
Shayne grinned. "No jury would ever believe that I meant to kill you and didn't."
"We'll go into that later," Gentry said sharply. "Right now I'm anxious to hear what Shayne has done on the Thrip case."
Shayne leaned back easily. "I'm not ready to give out yet, Will."
"The hell you're not!" Muscles knotted in Gentry's pudgy cheeks. He struggled for control, then growled, "Maybe you think Phyllis isn't on the spot. You'd better get that idea out of your head. Unless we turn up a motive for Renslow to kill Meldrum, Phyllis is headed for the chair."
Shayne was apparently unmoved. "Maybe it'll cure her of helping to detect," Shayne said ironically. "Besides, Phyllis is old enough to take care of herself."
"Damn it. Mike!" Gentry leaned forward and pounded his right fist into his open palm. "This is no time for one of your trick plays. Forget that Renslow will pay plenty for suppression of the evidence you've got against him. I know you're tough and mercenary, but you're not that tough."
"So you've changed your mind from a while ago?"
"You know I didn't mean it then. I was just--well, you forced me to say it."
"Why fool with him?" Painter broke in. "I don't believe he's got any evidence. I don't think there is any evidence. He's been trying to stay out of jail to plant some--that's all."
Neither Gentry nor Shayne appeared to hear Painter. Shayne was looking steadily at Gentry. "What makes you think I can supply a motive for Renslow?"
"Because of what you first said when you knew Phyllis was in it up to her neck--before you had time to wonder how many dollars you might make out of Renslow. And I've done some checking at the Tally-Ho too."
"That so? What did you find out?"
"A lot," Gentry shot back. "First, that Renslow didn't leave at eleven-thirty-eight as you said. His parking-ticket was stamped out at eleven-forty-four. The riot call came in at eleven-fifty. That seems to back up his story that he got there after it happened--which doesn't help Phyllis any."
"Clocks differ," Shayne snorted. "Besides, I can drive it in five minutes."
"I know. But was Renslow under enough pressure to hit that speed? Not if he was just rolling over to see his sweetie as he claims."
"I see." Shayne's eyes were narrowed and thoughtful. "What else did you find out?" he asked abruptly.
"I've got the boy who delivered a note to Renslow at your table. I've got a waitress who saw him go white and tear it up--and who saw you piece it together after Renslow rushed out--and who saw you rush out as soon as you put the pieces together. I've got Mona Tabor, who swears Renslow said he was being framed and wouldn't stand for it. Where are those pieces of that note?"
Shayne spread out his hands blandly. "I haven't admitted the existence of any note."
"What did it say?" Gentry's voice was husky. He was leaning far forward, searching Shayne's face with worried eyes. "You've got to tell us, Mike. You'll have to produce it eventually to clear Phyllis. You can't hold it over Renslow's head for a blackmail weapon."
"Wait a minute," Shayne said. "What is your case against Phyllis? Have you traced the pistol?"
"Yes. To Joe Darnell's moll. She claims you took it off her in your apartment today, and Phyllis admitted taking it with her when she went to see Meldrum."
Shayne nodded. "I was afraid she wouldn't think fast enough." His voice and face were placid. "What else did Phyllis have to say?"
"It isn't very good," Gentry warned him. "She went to his hotel to worm information out of him to help you on the Thrip case. She admits cuddling up to him and spending the afternoon banging around drinking joints, keeping him hot and bothered by intimating that--ahem--there would be more coming later. She went to the Tabor apartment with him at eleven and he was pretty tight. He seems to have got wise that she was giving him the run-around and he tried to lay her by force. She claims she threatened him with the .25 and he went into the living-room and shut the door and she stayed in the bedroom. She says she heard someone come and heard Meldrum talking to him. She said there was a hellish argument and then perfect silence.
"When she got up enough nerve she eased out into the living-room and ran into Renslow standing over Meldrum. She says she was scared half to death and when Renslow got the gun away from her she ran out of the room and down the back stairs. That's her story and it's pretty damn thin unless we can produce some motive for Renslow to have killed Meldrum. A jury will think Phyllis had a hell of a good motive for killing him."
"She did," said Shayne unruffled. "They won't convict a woman in Florida for defending her virtue. What are you worried about?"
Gentry's face was darkly red and he stared at Shayne with disbelieving eyes. His whole attitude was one of patience held in check with an effort. "I don't believe you, Mike. You can't sit there and claim you don't mind letting your wife be dragged into court to tell such a story--that she teased him and led him on--and then killed the poor devil because he tried to hold her to her promises--at least what he considered promises. Don't tell me you could do that."
"She knew the kind of guy she was marrying," Shayne grunted.
"No, she didn't, Mike," Gentry said soberly, almost sorrowfully. "That kid thinks you're some sort of god. You can't let her down, Mike; it would break her heart. She's just a kid. She doesn't know there are men who think more of money than of their wives' honor."
Shayne's lean face was a mask of cynicism. "After it's all over she could buy herself lots of diamonds with a million dollars."
There was a long silence inside the stuffy little hotel room. Gentry drew back, baffled and angry. He got a cigar out of his vest pocket and managed to get it lighted after three shaky tries.
Painter appeared to have forgotten his personal grievance in the face of Gentry's grilling of Shayne and the turn which events were taking, a turn which indicated clearly that Gentry wasn't learning anything about Shayne's character which he, Painter, hadn't known for a long time.
Finally, Will Gentry burst out, "I'm not going to let you do it, Mike. I won't let you ruin everything with your damn stubbornness. The note Renslow received at the Tally-Ho must have implicated him in the Thrip murder. He had motive enough and he admits he hated his sister, who let him stay in the pen. His alibi for last night is plenty shaky. From the way he rushed to the Terrace Apartments, the note must have threatened him with exposure."
Shayne shook his head. "That's just guessing, Will, and so far as hatred goes, don't forget that Thrip and Meldrum and Dorothy Thrip and that mewling Thrip boy hated her too."
Gentry snapped, "Don't try throwing me off the main track, Mike. We're talking about Renslow. What he did fits the facts. It has to be that way." He paused, thinking hard, then went on: "In holding out the evidence on Renslow, do you realize you're not only letting Phyllis down but you're also passing up a chance to exonerate Joe Darnell and yourself? What good will it do you to hold something over Renslow's head while you're lying in jail serving a term as accessory to murder?"
Shayne allowed himself a thin smile. "If your theory was correct, couldn't you see it as a lever over our friend Painter's head also? If I was good enough to withhold evidence implicating another man in the Thrip killing, don't you think Painter would be grateful enough to quash the charges against me?"
"I don't see why he should," Gentry said hotly. "He's a sworn officer of the law. He would be as guilty as you if he conspired with you to hide evidence in the case."
"What would he care if the newspapers lauded him for solving a case at the first stroke?"
Painter bristled and ran a small hand over his mottled face. He started to speak, but Gentry bellowed, "Peter Painter is an officer of the law and--"
"You're getting mighty ethical all at once," Shayne kidded the Miami chief. "Don't forget that Darnell is awfully dead already. And think of the spot our Petie would be in if he was forced to retract everything and admit that Darnell wasn't guilty? After shooting off his mouth to the papers--wiring the governor--why, it would make our Petie the laughingstock of the state. You wouldn't want that to happen, Will." Shayne shook his head chidingly.
Listening to this byplay, Painter's face flushed. Where Shayne had hit him was an angry purple. "I don't need any help from you, Shayne. You don't need to cover up for me."
"You've taken help from me before," Shayne growled out of the side of his mouth, "and been damn glad to get it."
He still held Gentry's gaze with a look of mockery. "No. It's really out of your hands, Will. The less you know about the setup the better. Why don't you let Painter and me thrash this thing out together?"
"Leave you two to cover up a murder and let your wife take the rap for it?" Gentry demanded, outraged.
"But I pointed out to you that Phyl isn't in any real danger. Listen, Will, if your wife tried to meddle into your business, wouldn't you try to give her a dose to cure her for all time? No jury would convict Phyllis," he ended casually.
"But it would drag her name through the mud. Leave the stigma of guilt on her."
"A million dollars can overcome a hell of a lot of stigmas," Shayne told him cheerfully.
"No, Mike," Gentry announced savagely, "I'm not going to let you do it. You've got that note some place. You wouldn't destroy it because it'll be worth plenty to you after Renslow is released and gets his hands on that dough. I'm not going away from here without it."
"What makes you think it's here?" Shayne parried.
"Because you haven't had time to ditch it, even if you intended to. And you didn't think we were going to find you here registered under an assumed name. Sending that note to Phyllis was one of the dumbest things you've ever done."
"Yeh. It wasn't smart," Shayne conceded wryly. "But you're wrong about that note. I threw the pieces away after I put enough together to get the gist of it."
"I don't believe you," Gentry growled.
The smile was driven from Shayne's lips by a hard mask of anger that held a hint of desperation. He stood up slowly. "Calling me a liar is getting to be a habit around here."
"It's your own fault, Mike." Gentry lumbered to his feet and faced Shayne. His lips carefully maneuvered a soggy cigar butt from left to right while he sucked it dry and swallowed with relish. "Are you going to hand over that note?"
"Hell, no. I wouldn't give it to you if I had it."
"I'm going to see if you've got it before I go out of this room," Gentry told him patiently. He took a step forward and the detective's fists knotted up at the end of his long arms. He said softly:
"I'd hate like hell to hit an old man, but don't come any closer, Will."
Gentry stopped three feet from him. He hesitated, then turned to the door with a shrug. "All right. You're bringing this on yourself." He opened the door and spoke curtly to the men in the corridor: "Come in, sergeant. And you, Casey and Rathbone."
A sergeant and two heavy-bodied patrolmen trooped into the hotel room and stolidly waited for further orders. Michael Shayne stood back against the wall with his weight resting lightly on the balls of his feet. He warned. "Somebody's going to get hurt, Gentry."
"That," said Gentry, "is up to you." To the waiting sergeant he growled, "Get your saps out and take him. He never carries a gun, but don't let him get a swing or you'll think dynamite's hit you."
The trio started to close in with blackjacks swinging ready. Shayne glared over their heads and directed one last appeal to his old friend in a strained voice: "Don't do it, Will. You're going to regret it. I'm telling you for the last time--"
He ducked a blackjack swinging toward his head in a violent arc and lunged forward with his fists going like pistons. Rathbone was driven back five feet by one blow, but the sergeant coolly sidestepped and sapped the raging redhead behind the right ear.
Shayne grunted and his flailing fists lost their power. Casey grappled with him and the sergeant got a cuff on his left wrist, deftly jerked that behind Shayne's back, and snapped the other cuff on his right wrist.
"That'll do," Gentry told his men. "Go on outside and wait for us."
He threw his cigar savagely against the wall as they went out. "I hate this, Mike, but I'm going to search you. If that note isn't on you I'm going to tear this room to little pieces looking for it."
Shayne muttered, "Okay, Will," with his hands pinioned behind him. He moved sideways on rubbery legs and slid down into a chair. "It's in my inside coat pocket, and damn your soul for not letting me play this my own way."
His chin dropped onto his chest while Gentry's thick fingers rummaged inside his coat and pulled out the forged note. Peter Painter jumped up from his chair and came forward eagerly to read it over Gentry's shoulder.
There was heavy silence while both men read the pasted strips of typewritten words that cleared Buell Renslow and left Carl Meldrum self-convicted of murdering Mrs. Leora Thrip.
Will Gentry blew out his breath and stammered, "B-but--what the sweet hell, Mike--This--Why, this isn't--it's not what I thought--"
"You wouldn't trust me to know what I was doing," Shayne ground out bitterly. "No. You had to see the thing for yourself. All right. There it is. Are you satisfied? What does that do to your case against Renslow for killing Meldrum?"
"It--shoots it all to hell, Mike," Gentry rumbled. "According to this, the last person in the world to kill Meldrum would be Renslow. If Meldrum did leave a letter accusing Renslow of hiring him to murder Mrs. Thrip, it'll look damn bad for the ex-convict."
"Where does that leave Phyllis?" Shayne grated. "This seems to prove that Renslow got there too late to prevent murder. It'll make his story stand up--" Shayne's voice broke. His chin sagged forward and he breathed with, heavy, rasping irregularity.
"It's--why, this completely upsets our case against Joe Darnell," Painter exclaimed in a stricken voice. "Yet--you weren't going to make it public even to clear yourself."
"Don't be a complete ass," Gentry advised Painter acidly. "He wasn't holding it out to make it easy on you. Hell! This practically cinches the case against his wife for bumping Meldrum. Why didn't you give me some hint?" he muttered fiercely to Shayne.
"A hint? All I've done all evening was try to stall you. But no. You wouldn't take my word for it. You had to be smart and take it off me by force. All right. There it is. What are you going to do with it?"
"Look," Painter put in quickly. "Maybe we can cover this up. It's as much to Shayne's advantage--and you, Will, don't you want to see Mrs. Shayne beat the charge? Why can't we forget this ever happened?"
Gentry said, "No." His brow was furrowed and his heavy jaw was set like a bulldog's.
Shayne smiled thinly, showing his teeth. "It's no go, Painter. Gentry's hell on duty. You're in for a nice slap in the face when this all comes out in the papers."
"I didn't mean actually to suppress this note as evidence," Painter defended himself. "I thought we might keep it quiet between the three of us for a little while--twenty-four hours would be enough. That would give me time to make a statement that I wasn't--" Painter massaged his purplish bruises in deep contemplation; his black eyes flashed as if he were thinking up something entirely original--"and I haven't been entirely satisfied with the case as it stood. I'll announce a reopening of investigations." He paused, nervously wetting his upper lip. His eyes were harried and he looked yellow around the purple spots on his cheek. "Of course, I'll rescind my telegram to the governor and explain that I acted too hastily."
Shayne nodded soberly. "We might prevail on Will to hold off making this note public for a few hours," Shayne agreed. "His conscience should be elastic enough to stretch that far. It would give me a chance to go over Phyl's case with a lawyer--and see what kind of defense we can work up. How about it, Will?"
Gentry sat down on the bed and slowly reread the note which he held in both hands. Without looking up, he said, "I reckon that couldn't hurt very much. But I won't hold Renslow in jail for no good reason while you fellows are fixing your fences. I'll order his release at once, with a statement that I have evidence of his entire innocence." He got up heavily, avoiding Shayne's eyes.
Gentry went to the door and opened it, ordered the sergeant to take off Shayne's cuffs, then told him to take his men away.
When the men were gone, Shayne wriggled his fingers and flexed his arm muscles, then asked, "How about letting me have Meldrum's note?"
"I can't do that, Mike," Gentry said. He folded the note and put it in his pocket, hesitated, and added awkwardly, "I'm sorry it turned out this way."
Shayne said, "You might have trusted me to know what I was doing, Will."
"Yeah, I might. But it still wouldn't have been right." Gentry turned and went out the door, closing it.
Shayne expelled a long breath as the door closed. He turned to Painter and said, "You'd better be getting a statement ready for the morning Herald."
"Of course," Painter said briskly. "How shall I phrase it? Will it be all right if I say I've been working closely with you? How would it be to intimate that my assertion concerning Darnell's guilt was merely a smoke screen to lull the real criminal into a feeling of false security so he could be more readily trapped?"
"That ought to get you a lot of applause. Go ahead, but leave me out of it. You can have all the credit for clearing the mess up. All I ask is that you don't even hint the identity of the real criminal--not until I give the word. I think I see a way to pick up a few dimes if things work out just right."
Painter shook his head wonderingly. "I don't see how you can think about money while your wife is in jail charged with murder."
"She isn't charged--yet," Shayne reminded him blithely. "You never can tell when something will pop up."
He picked up the nearly empty cognac bottle and poured the remaining liquid down his throat. Then he draped his coat over his arm, jammed his hat down on his head, and stalked out.
* * * *
PLAYING FOR KEEPS
Shayne walked into Gentry's office a few minutes after Buell Renslow had been brought in from the skyscraper jail across Flagler Street. The ex-convict looked pallid but[ ]composed as he stood by Gentry's desk and heard the chief say he was being released. His gaze flickered to Shayne's face when the detective entered, but he didn't speak. Will Gentry raised his eyebrows in Shayne's direction, but went on with what he was saying to Renslow:
"...and I've never kept a man locked up a minute after I was convinced of his innocence." He paused to take a cigar from his mouth and spit in the direction of a brass spittoon. "You'll be called as a witness in the Thrip case to identify Meldrum's note, of course. You're just damned lucky Shayne had sense enough to gather up the pieces at the Tally-Ho after you left. Without that note you'd be in a tough spot."
Renslow's body became rigid. He darted a perplexed look behind him at the detective but remained discreetly silent.
"I've never believed in hounding a man because he's made a mistake in the past," Gentry went on. "I understand you've done your time and that puts you in the clear as far as I'm concerned. Don't try to leave the city, and you'll get a square deal from me."
Renslow said, "Thanks, chief." He wet his lips and waited.
"That's all," Gentry told him. "You can go now."
Turning away from the chief's desk, Renslow met Shayne's hard gaze. The detective said, "Wait out in the hall for me," and went past him toward Gentry.
Renslow went out and closed the door. Gentry leaned back and grunted, "I suppose you want to see Phyllis?"
"Why--no." Shayne groped for words. "As a matter of fact, I don't. I--hell, Will, I don't know what I'm going to say to her."
Gentry nodded his understanding. "I phoned the matron a few minutes ago and she said Phyllis was sleeping like a baby. It would be just as well not to disturb her tonight- She's not worried, you know. She expects you to pull a miracle out of the hat any time it's needed." He nursed his lips and sighed, avoiding Shayne's eyes. Shayne said, "Yeh, I know." He hesitated over further words, then clamped his lips together tightly, turned, and walked out.
Renslow was waiting for him in the hall. They walked silently to a side door and went out into the early morning coolness of the deserted side street.
Buell Renslow drew in a long, deep breath and let it out raspingly. He said, "It tastes good."
They turned the corner onto Southwest First Street and he added, "The air, I mean."
Shayne nodded. "Yeh. I figured that was what you meant."
"It tastes different when you breathe it behind bars," Renslow told him with passionate conviction. "A man can't know what I'm talking about unless he's spent a lot of years behind them like I have."
"I suppose not," Shayne agreed.
They walked on together, their heels thumping the sidewalk loudly in the morning stillness. The thin arc of the moon was paling before the coming of early dawn. A milk truck lumbered past and a scarred alley cat slunk away between two buildings as they approached. They were alone in the sleeping city except for a policeman on his beat who turned and watched them over his shoulder as far as he could see them.
A block beyond Miami Avenue Renslow broke the silence nervously: "I don't get this at all. What the chief said back there in his office just didn't make sense. If you grabbed the pieces of that note and put them together, I don't see why they didn't put me under their jail."
"Gentry hasn't seen the note you got from Carl Meldrum," Shayne explained.
"Wait a minute." Renslow stopped and grabbed his arm. "He talked like he knew all about it."
"He thinks he does." Shayne shook off Renslow's arm. "We'll go up to my place while I explain the setup to you."
He led the way to the side entrance of his hotel, where they went down concrete steps and through a door into a square vestibule, then up two flights to his old bachelor quarters which now served him as an office.
The living-room of his apartment was in pretty much of a mess, just as the fracas with Ernst had left it. Shayne went around and methodically straightened up chairs while Renslow watched silently. When he was through he motioned to the wall liquor cabinet and asked, "What'll you drink?"
Renslow eyed the array of bottles avidly. He went over and selected a bottle of bourbon. Shayne got some cognac and glasses, a seltzer bottle for his guest, and the inevitable ice water for himself.
They settled themselves at the center table and both had a drink. Then they lit cigarettes and Shayne leaned back comfortably with one leg dangling off the padded arm of his chair. His face wore an inscrutable mask of hardness. He didn't appear in any hurry to get on with the business that had brought them together.
Renslow took a long pull on his cigarette, then leaned forward and jerked out, "I heard them talking, there at the jail and all--and they picked up the dame that killed Carl, huh?"
"They picked up the girl you saw in Mona's apartment--after Meldrum was dead."
"And she was--well, hell, some of them say she turned out to be your wife."
Shayne said, "That's right." He shifted his leg an inch to a more comfortable position.
"I don't get it," Renslow exclaimed hoarsely. "Damned if I do. Just between you and me, you know how that note reads. It looks like I beat it over there and bumped Carl to keep him from blabbing on me for killing my sister. Whether I killed either one of them or not wouldn't make any difference to the law if they saw that note. I'd burn, so help me."
Shayne nodded. "You've sized it up just right."
"I don't see why you're holding the note out on them. Turning me loose this way puts Carl's death squarely up to your wile. If I didn't, she must have. If you had showed Gentry that note she'd be here right now and I'd be behind the eight ball."
"Maybe I like your company better than I do hers," Shayne suggested lazily.
Renslow's lips twisted into a scornful smile. "Don't try to feed me that. You're playing for keeps one way or the other."
"Yes," Shayne admitted, "I am. I faked a note. I typed it and signed Meldrum's name, then tore it up and pasted the pieces down to make it look right. Gentry has that note and I have the real one. In the note I forged, Meldrum admits he killed Mrs. Thrip and threatens to accuse you of hiring him to do the job unless you give him getaway money. He warns you not to try and kill him because he's left a letter accusing you that will be opened after his death. Does that make sense to you?"
"Plenty," Renslow exulted. "That makes it look like a cinch that I didn't bop him. That's why they let me go. But I still don't get your angle," he muttered, his face clouding. "Why should you cover up for me with the cops and leave your wife to take the rap?"
Shayne stretched out the palm of his hand and suggestively rubbed his thumb across the base of his fingers. "Only one possible reason, Renslow. Money."
"I get it. If I don't pay off, you'll spring the real note I got from Carl and that's all they'll need to slap two murder charges on me."
"You get the idea nicely."
"But I didn't kill either of them," Renslow protested frantically.
"I swear to God I didn't. It's all a frame-up."
"But it's practically airtight," Shayne pointed out.
"But it's still a frame. I swear I didn't."
"I'm not interested in that," Shayne told him coldly. "The law isn't going to be much interested either. You know how that goes. They'll execute you first and begin to wonder if you were guilty afterward."
Renslow's body tautened. He began to tremble. "Yeah," he said huskily. "Yeah, that's the way it'll be. I won't have a chance. I knew that as soon as I read the note. Everything went red when I saw how Carl was fixing to frame me. If I hadn't torn that note up and then left it like a fool for you to grab--" He made a gesture of despair.
"That's the mistake that's going to cost you," Shayne agreed. "And cost you plenty."
Renslow slumped down and lifted his glass. Bourbon and soda trickled down his chin when his shaking hand tilted the glass to his lips. "I'm hooked. I know it. I'm not arguing. But I'm not carrying much folding money these days. I don't know--"
"Don't try to chisel on me. Get it through your thick head that I'm not playing for marbles." Shayne's voice was remorseless. "Start figuring out how much your life is worth to you."
"It's just how much I can raise," Renslow protested. "All I'm getting from the estate is a lousy handout each month."
"Which is a hell of a lot more than you will get if you're convicted of murdering your sister."
"I know, I know." Renslow spread out his hands placatingly. "I'm not arguing my spot with you. With me innocent as a baby, I've not got a Chinaman's chance if you spring that note. I'm just trying to tell you I'm not heeled with heavy dough."
"That's liable to be your tough luck." Shayne gestured toward the bourbon bottle. "Help yourself."
"I need it," Renslow admitted. He filled his glass. "You can't get blood from a turnip. Hell, I'll come clean. I'll fork over every damn cent I can rake up."
"How much can you raise? Fifty grand?"
"Fifty gran--? Where do you think I can put my hands on that kind of money?"
Renslow was breathing heavily and there was a frown of incredulity on his face. "You're nuts!" he exclaimed. "Pure nuts. I might scrape up twenty-five C's--" He leaned forward to study his host's face hopefully.
"Pin money," said Shayne with scorn. "I've got to get paid for letting my wife take the rap for you."
"I can't get any more," Renslow faltered. "I swear I'm leveling with you."
"That's going to be your hard luck. I didn't know I was wasting time on a piker. I should have left you lying in jail."
"God, but you're tough," Renslow breathed. "Can I help it if I can't kick in with a fortune?"
"Won't your part of the estate add up to millions?"
"Sure, but it may not be settled in court for a year. If you're willing to wait until I collect--"
Shayne's harsh laughter drowned out the note of abject leading in the ex-convict's voice. "Cash on the barrelhead the only thing I can use." He frowned over Renslow's head. A musing light came into his eyes. Renslow started to speak and he silenced him with upheld hand.
"Wait a minute. I just thought of another angle. Maybe can sell a bill of goods to someone else." He laughed unpleasantly. "I was dumb not to see this angle before. If you're convicted of murdering your sister, the whole estate will go to Thrip. That makes your conviction worth a few million to him, doesn't it?"
"God!" Renslow's tone was awed. "You wouldn't--sell me out to him? Like auctioning me off to the highest [ ]bidder?"
"Why not?" Shayne smiled pleasantly, showing even rows of white teeth between lips that curled back and away from each other. He lounged to his feet, thrust hit hands deep into his pockets, and teetered back and forth on the balls of his feet, nodding approbation for his own cleverness in solving the problem so neatly.
"Why not?" he demanded again. "All you mean to me is a way to make some money. Thrip is a businessman. It won't take him long to see that your conviction will be worth money to him. He'll pay, by God. And that'll be lots better all the way around," he went on argumentatively. "Lots cleaner. By throwing you to the wolves I can collect from Thrip and clear Mrs. Shayne at the same time. Not bad. Not bad at all, even if I do say it as shouldn't." He lifted his glass in a toast to himself with wholehearted self-approval.
"I believe you'd do it," Renslow panted. "I believe you would."
"Why not? I told you and Mona in her apartment yesterday that I had to have a fall guy. I warned you I wasn't going to give a damn who got hurt. Here, I've got a sweet pay-off and a fall guy."
"You're crazy. You can't get away with anything as raw as that." Renslow came to his feet with a rush. The protesting words poured out like floodwaters bursting a dam. "I'm not going to sit on my pratt and let you frame me into the chair. Maybe you weren't so smart when you held that note out. No one else knows about it. If I bump you, no one ever will." He whirled and caught up a straight chair, turned threateningly while his eyes blazed hatred at the detective.
Shayne laughed shortly. "Put that chair down. There's been enough killing."
"I'm not so sure of that.' Renslow began to inch forward.
Shayne stood his ground. "Don't be any more of a damned fool than you can help," he advised Renslow Coldly- "You won't be any better off with a broken neck than if you were squatting on the hot seat. I'm still open for bids," he went on casually.
Renslow stopped inching forward. His tense grip on the chair relaxed slightly. In a choked voice he said, "You know I won't be able to meet Thrip's bid. I'm out on a limb for cash."
Shayne said. "Let go of that chair and sit down."
After a moment's hesitation, Renslow obeyed. Receding anger left him shaken and afraid.
Shayne said, "That's better. Now, look. Can't you raise some cash on your prospects? A man who stands to inherit several million dollars ought to be able to raise a few grand if he tries hard enough."
"Not as much as twenty-five," Renslow faltered. "I don't know where--"
"That was just my asking price. Hell, I'm not a hard guy to deal with. In fact, I'm a damned softy about giving an ex-con a break. Double your offer and I'll play ball with you."
"You mean--double twenty-five hundred?"
"That's right." Shayne nodded encouragement. "Just five grand--enough to keep me in drinking-liquor a few months while I get the taste of this case washed out of my mouth. How about it?"
Renslow emptied his bourbon glass and some of the color came back into his face. He nodded slowly. "I think maybe I could raise that much. Mona--she's got some contacts with heavy dough."
"I don't give a damn where or how you get it. Noon today is the deadline though."
"That doesn't give me much time."
"It's all you can have. This thing is so damn hot I've[ ]got to drop it by noon."
"I don't know. I'll do my best to raise it by then."
"You'd better succeed," Shayne told him implacably, "Be here with the cash at noon or the real note goes into the hands of the cops."
"And if I do--?"
"If you're here with five grand at twelve o'clock you'll be in the clear. I'll guarantee you a long life out of jail."
"You won't cross me up? You won't go to Thrip and give him a chance to bid higher?"
"To hell with it if you can't trust me," Shayne growled. "I'm not signing any affidavits, if that's what you mean. I'm playing with fire to give you a break, and you'll have to trust me--or else."
"Yeah," Renslow agreed dismally, "I guess I will." He sighed and got up. "I'll raise that dough if I have to crack the First National Bank."
"Good." Shayne flashed him a smile and stepped forward to slap him on the shoulder. "You won't regret it." He steered Renslow toward the door. "But I'll make it my business to see that you do regret it if you're not here."
He opened the door and watched Renslow go toward the elevator. He closed it softly, moved across the room to a window, and lifted a shade to see dawn lighting the sleeping city. He suddenly realized that he had not closed his eyes since the telephone got him out of bed more than twenty-four hours previously.
He dropped the shade and went to the telephone, where he called the Thrip number. He waited a long time with the receiver to his ear before the butler's sleepy voice answered.
He asked for Mr. Thrip and the butler assured him it was quite out of the question to awaken his master at such an ungodly hour. The detective told the butler Mike Shayne was calling and it was pretty damned important.
The butler grumbled and then acceded. Shayne waited a while longer and finally Thrip's querulous voice came over the wire:
"Mr. Shayne? I'm quite certain you have nothing to say that could not wait until a more decent hour."
Shayne said, "Don't be too certain. Pinch yourself and wake up enough to understand what I say the first time I say it. I have in my possession a note from Carl Meldrum that was delivered to your brother-in-law at the Tally-Ho just before midnight. In it, Meldrum states that he was an eyewitness to your wife's murder and demands hush money for keeping his testimony from the police. As you doubtless know, Carl Meldrum is now dead and the only tangible evidence against Renslow is this note. If I suppress it, Renslow will surely go free and be in a position to claim his half of the estate. If I turn it over to the police it will positively clinch the case against your wife's murderer. Renslow has offered me five thousand dollars to destroy the note. Is it worth more than that to you to have the police see it?"
"Why, this is shocking," Thrip protested. "Definitely Illegal. You can't play fast and loose with murder evidence in that way."
"Why not?" Thrip echoed incredulously. "Because I refuse to countenance any such infamous proposal. I will most certainly report you to the police."
"Don't be a complete fool. All I have to do is to destroy the note and deny this conversation--and that will cost you a few million and the satisfaction of seeing your wife's murderer executed."
"See here," blustered Thrip, "you can't--"
Shayne said, "Okay, pal," and hung up. He went to the table and lit a cigarette. His telephone began ringing. He let it ring quite a while before stepping back and lifting the receiver. Mr. Thrip sounded distinctly harried this time.
"Ah, Mr. Shayne. I may have been a trifle hasty--"
Shayne growled, "You were."
"Yes. Ah--on second thought I realize you are unscrupulous enough to do exactly as you threatened. While I object to being the victim of coercion I most certainly am unwilling to see the murderer of my wife go unpunished. You--mentioned five thousand dollars?"
"That's right. That's all Renslow can raise on the spur of the moment. I have a living to make, so I'm naturally anxious to get a higher offer."
"You are the most openly unscrupulous man I've ever encountered," Mr. Thrip told him warmly. "Ah--suppose we say six thousand?"
"That's better than five," Shayne agreed promptly. "Bring the cash--it's better than a check in a delicate situation like this. Have it here at noon. Twelve o'clock sharp. Any later will be too late." He gave Thrip the address and hung up.
He hesitated about going upstairs to the empty and silent apartment. There were too many things to remind him of Phyllis--and that she was spending the night in jail. He opened a window and stretched out on the couch in his office. He was sleeping soundly a minute after he lay down.
* * * *
Michael Shayne awoke at eleven o'clock. He swung his legs over the edge of the lounge and sat hunched over for a moment, running knobby fingers through his stiff red hair. Only an hour until the blow-off and he still had several things to do.
He swiftly checked over his plans, and mentally okayed them. This promised to be the sort of photo finish he enjoyed--split-second timing with lives hanging in the balance while he sat back and pulled the strings.
He went into the bathroom and doused his face and head with cold water. Red bristles showed damply on his face when he came out of the bathroom, but his shaving things were upstairs and he still wasn't quite ready to face that empty apartment.
He called Peter Painter first and spoke to the Miami Beach detective chief concisely:
"Shayne talking, with no time to waste. I'm cleaning up the Thrip and Meldrum cases in my office at noon sharp. I need those extortion notes received by Mrs. Thrip. And I want you to stop by the Palace Hotel and see if Meldrum had access to a typewriter there. Bring it with you if he did. Got that?"
"Of course." Painter sounded a trifle petulant. "Have you seen this morning's Herald? In my statement I mentioned your splendid co-operation and--"
"I just woke up," Shayne grunted. "I'm sure you fixed the headlines in a big way. I'll have a News reporter here at noon to get the complete story. Don't fail to be on hand so you can act as though you know what it's all about." He hung up, grinning widely at Painter's hurt protest that he was fully aware of what was taking place.
He called Will Gentry next. The chief of Miami detectives sounded tired and unsure of himself. "When are you going to crack this thing, Mike? I feel as though I'm sitting on a box of dynamite with this confession of Meldrum's in my pocket."
"Twelve o'clock sharp," Shayne told him blithely. 'Painter will meet us here at my apartment and we'll clean the whole mess up in five minutes."
"You sound as though you had something up your sleeve."
Shayne said, "Maybe I have," and hung up before Will Gentry could question him further.
His next call was to the Miami Daily News, where he got Timothy Rourke on the wire. He held the receiver inches away from his ear while the angry reporter bellowed:
"A hell of a pal you turned out to be, shamus! What's the idea of leaving me out in the cold while the Herald cracks Painter's admission that the Thrip case ain't iced up? Damn it, Mike, I gave you what you wanted yesterday on your promise that we had the inside track. What are you holding out?"
"Headlines that'll sell your afternoon papers," Shayne told him calmly. "Keep your shirt on and shut up long enough to listen to me. I've always fixed the breaks so they go your way. All the Herald had this morning was a vague retraction from Painter. Be at my office at twelve-fifteen on the dot and you won't squawk about what you get. And, Tim! Bring an AP man along. I want the story to hit the New York papers fast."
"What's coming off, Mike? Our deadline is one o'clock."
"That's why I timed it as I did. Keep your front page clean for a bomb to explode."
Shayne hung up and moved to the center of the floor where he rubbed his bristly jaw undecidedly. There was a gnawing in his stomach and he wondered if a small snifter would help. He decided not. Food was definitely indicated.
Shayne went down through the lobby, long-legged it to the hotel where he had registered for a brief interval last night. He had the room key in his pocket so he strode right past the desk and up to his room.
Inside, he turned the mattress back and felt inside the slit in the ticking. Carl Meldrum's original note was where he had thrust it last night. He put it in his pocket and went downstairs, tossed his key on the desk as he went out.
He stopped at a small cafe on Flagler Street and wolfed down four scrambled eggs with crisp bacon on the side. The gnawing went away from his midriff. It was eleven-fifty when he finished his second cup of coffee.
It was eleven-fifty-eight when he got out of his hotel elevator on the third floor.
A man was rapping on the door of his office. Buell Renslow turned to face him as he came up the corridor. Relief twitched over the ex-con's pallid face. "I'm a little early," he said huskily, "but I was afraid maybe you wouldn't wait if I wasn't."
"This is just perfect," Shayne assured him. He unlocked the door and stepped in, held his hand out to Renslow. "Got it on you?"
"Yes, I--I got it." Renslow dug a roll of bills out of his pocket and pressed them into the detective's hand. He tensed and swung toward the door when he heard the tramp of feet sounding in the hallway.
Shayne unconcernedly thrust the roll in his pocket without counting it, reached out, and pulled the door open.
Will Gentry came in first. He was followed by Mr. Thrip and by Peter Painter, who was bowed over by the weight of an office model typewriter.
Arnold Thrip looked hot and nervous. His eyes sought Shayne's worriedly. Renslow took a quick backward step when he saw Will Gentry. He frowned with sudden perplexity and fear when he recognized his dead sister's husband. He darted forward to get out the door when Painter stepped inside.
Shayne casually got in his way and thrust him back. He grunted, "You're not going anywhere, Renslow," and locked the door, putting the key into his pocket.
Desperation flamed in Renslow's eyes. He started a forward movement against Shayne, then sagged back limply against the wall. Almost soundlessly he intoned, "Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God," and the phrase was not blasphemy.
Gentry and Thrip stopped a few feet inside the room, while Painter went on to the table, where he thumped the typewriter down and straightened up with his fingers pressed against the small of his back.
Shayne leaned his shoulder blades against the locked door and said, "Welcome, gentlemen. Will, I believe you and Mr. Thrip know Renslow, but Painter hasn't met him. The mustache with the handsome man behind it is Peter Painter--our persevering chief of detectives from across the bay who still hopes to solve a case some day."
Painter took a step forward and nodded with dignity. He caressed his threadlike mustache with his forefinger and did not deign to reply to the insult.
Renslow remained sagged back against the wall, his eyes darting from one to another of the trio in a frenzy of fearful speculation.
Mr. Thrip inclined his head and spoke in a tone of pompous irritation. "Perhaps I misunderstood you, Mr. Shayne. I didn't--ah--realize there would be such a gathering here."
"That's quite all right. You can pay me off in the presence of these witnesses as well as though we were alone. Mr. Thrip," Shayne gravely explained to the heads of the two detective bureaus, "has retained me on this case to solve his wife's murder. On payment of a specified fee I have promised to deliver evidence into the hands of the police that will convict the murderer. I'll take that six grand now, Mr. Thrip."
Behind him Buell Renslow moaned faintly. "You dirty double-crosser! I might've known."
No one paid any attention to Renslow's laments. Painter and Gentry watched in silence while Mr. Thrip hesitantly offered Shayne a long sealed envelope. The detective tore it open and counted out six thousand dollar bills with an expression of pleasure on his gaunt face. He nodded and thrust the bills into his pocket on top of the wad Renslow had passed over just previously.
He went past the three men to the center table, saying briskly, "I think we can finish up our business in short order." He frowned down at the typewriter Painter had brought. "Is this Carl Meldrum's machine?"
"Not his," Painter explained. "It belongs to the Palace Hotel, but Meldrum often used it. In fact, the clerk definitely recalls that he used it just before noon yesterday."
Shayne said, "U-m-m. To type the note I recovered after Renslow tore it up, I suppose. Also, to type the extortion notes, no doubt, if he authored them."
He slid a sheet of paper in the roller and began punching keys aimlessly, suggesting to Painter and Gentry, "Let's take a look at the notes and make some rough comparisons to see if the typing checks."
Thrip's eyes bulged when Gentry pulled out the sheet with strips of a typewritten message pasted on it. He shot an angry glance at Shayne. "But I thought--I understood the message was in your possession and you threatened to withhold it from the police unless I--ah--"
"Unless you paid off," Shayne finished for him. He took the note from Gentry and held it so Thrip could not see the words. "Well, you wouldn't have paid the six grand otherwise, would you?" he demanded, then turned to call to Renslow, who had slumped down into a chair behind them. "Better join us. You'll be interested in the results of these comparisons."
Renslow sighed abjectly. He looked ten years older than when he entered the room. He muttered, "It doesn't matter. You've got me hooked. What do you want to fool around for?"
Shayne pulled his sheet of typing from the roller and laid it on the table beside the note he had forged. He stepped back to make way for the trio to compare the typing, saying pleasantly, "I don't believe they check very well."
Thrip's eyes raced over the text of the note and his head jerked up and around at Shayne. "That isn't it," he exclaimed hotly. "That's not at all what you led me to believe Meldrum had written."
"Perhaps Meldrum didn't write that one," Shayne agreed. "How about it?" he asked the two detective chiefs.
Gentry shook his head negatively. "It doesn't take an expert to tell that this wasn't typed on this typewriter."
"Check the extortion notes," Shayne suggested to Painter.
Painter drew an envelope from his side coat pocket and extracted a number of folded sheets of paper. Shayne stepped back and poured himself a drink of cognac, red eyebrows lifted quizzically while they made the second comparison.
Again Will Gentry shook his head. "Not alike at all. What sort of game is this, Mike? What does all this stuff matter when we already know--"
"Here's something you don't know." Shayne handed him the original pasted-together note written by Carl Meldrum and torn up by Renslow. "See how this one checks."
Gentry grunted surprise when he read the note. Painter stiffened disbelievingly and turned toward Renslow like a bird dog on point. Thrip's eyes bulged with pleasure and gratification as he read the accusing document.
"What the hell is this?" Gentry demanded roughly. "By God, Mike, what monkey business are you pulling this time?"
"Did Meldrum type it?" Shayne demanded.
After giving him a long moment of searching scrutiny, Gentry leaned forward and made the comparison. This time he nodded slowly. "No doubt about this one." He straightened his burly shoulders with heavy dignity and looked sorrowfully at the private detective. "This is the real McCoy, isn't it? This is exactly what I figured the note would be before you passed off a phony on us last night. It supplies the motive for Renslow to have killed Meldrum, and it clears Phyllis. Why in God's name did you pull this shenanigan, Mike?"
"You made me. You tried to force my hand at Mona's apartment last night. What would you have done if I'd handed it over to you then? You would have thrown the book at Renslow and he would have stayed locked up. That would have ruined my chance of making anything off him. Holding that note out on you was my only possible lever to jimmy some dough out of him."
"I get it," Gentry growled. "You saw a chance to chisel on the poor devil. You got him turned loose long enough to dig up some jack for you on your promise not to turn him in?"
"It was that simple," Shayne gibed. "Those few hours I gained were worth five thousand of Renslow's money. He paid it over just before you walked in."
Gentry was breathing hard through set lips. A revulsion of disgust shook his heavy body. He said, "By God, that's about the rottenest deal I ever saw cooked up."
Shayne laughed. "You know me. Always smelling out a profit. Sometimes they stink a little, but I'm used to that." He paused, then added casually, "On the other hand, if I'd told you the whole truth last night you would have grabbed Thrip right then, and I never would have got six grand out of him. Altogether, it was worth eleven thou--"
He got no further before the significance of his casual words seeped through to the other four men in the room.
Painter and Gentry exclaimed, "Thrip?" in disbelieving unison, while the real estate man straightened slowly and stared at Shayne in utter consternation. Hearing Shayne's words but not quite daring to believe what he heard, Buell Renslow slowly began to rise from his chair as though propelled by a force outside his own volition.
Shayne said, "Of course. It was Thrip all the way. Not only one murder, nor two--but three. His wife, Darnell, and finally Meldrum."
"How utterly preposterous." Thrip laughed hollowly. "With this convincing evidence before you--" He gestured toward Meldrum's note.
Shayne said, "Exactly. The note clinches the whole thing against you, Thrip. I promised you I'd deliver evidence into the hands of the police that would convict Mrs. Thrip's murderer. There's the evidence. I've kept my promise to the letter. It's a hell of a trick to charge a man six thousand bucks for his own conviction, but you should have thought of that when you made me the offer."
"I don't get it," Gentry growled. "Here's this note to Renslow--"
"The note wasn't sent to Renslow. That's the answer. Neat, wasn't it? Thrip got the note from Meldrum some time yesterday. He realized the jig was up unless Meldrum was permanently silenced. He had already suggested to me that Renslow had sent the extortion notes, and had explained that Renslow stood to profit by his sister's death.
"That made Renslow a swell suspect, and Meldrum's failure to put a salutation on the note gave him an idea for getting rid of Meldrum and framing Renslow for it--
"Shut up!" he exclaimed viciously when Thrip tried to break in. "You tried to frame me in the first place with your lie about planning a fake jewel robbery. You had that note delivered to Renslow at the Tally-Ho so he'd just have time to reach the apartment by midnight. You got there ten minutes early and raised a ruckus so the police would be called, killed Meldrum, and ducked out just before Renslow showed up. As you planned, the police arrived in time to catch Renslow there with the body. You had naturally hoped he'd stick the note in his pocket and be caught with it. That would supply the motive for him to have murdered Meldrum, and with his past record there wasn't a chance for him to wriggle out--and his share of the estate would go to you. When you learned he had torn up the note and it was in my possession you were glad to pay six grand to have it turned over to the police. All right, they've got it. And I hope you like your bargain."
"Good heavens! the man has lost his senses." Thrip appealed vehemently to Painter and Gentry. "This is the most outrageous tissue of lies--"
Buell Renslow was on his feet gripping Shayne's arm fiercely. "You're right. You must be right. I didn't understand that note from Carl. I saw it for a frame but I didn't know what to do. After just getting out of stir--"
"Everything's okay now." Shayne patted his shoulder. "Take it easy. Nobody's going to frame you. Hell, didn't you pay me five thousand berries to keep you out of jail?"
"What did you mean about Darnell?" Gentry demanded. "And a fake jewel robbery?"
"That's a little secret between Mr. Thrip and me," Shayne told him grimly. "For months," he went on, "our upright Mr. Thrip has been planning one of the most cold-blooded and most nearly perfect murders I've ever run up against. He's the man who wrote those extortion notes to his wife. Maybe he first actually hoped to collect from her on them. She told me he urged her to pay the demands when they first came. When she refused to be intimidated, he got another and what he hoped was a better idea. He used the notes as an excuse to his wife and to Painter for hiring a private detective to guard his house. He gave me a different story. He didn't mention the notes to me. He asked me to send a man out to plant evidence of a burglary and steal an empty jewel case as a means of collecting insurance on the jewels."
Shayne paused, eying the financier coldly. Thrip's body seemed shrunken, the flesh hung limply from his jowls.
"I fell for his story," Shayne admitted bitterly. "Not hard enough to accept the job, but I did send Joe out there--to get murdered, as it turned out. I refused to help him stage the fake robbery," Shayne went on slowly, "because at that time I represented the insurance company he was going to victimize. One of the few things I don't do is to bite the hand that writes a pay-check. But I happened to run into Joe Darnell, who was trying to go straight and starving at it. Thrip had promised to leave a thousand-dollar bill in the empty jewel case. I didn't see why Joe shouldn't have that bill."
Shayne again paused in his rapid recital, his lips twisting wryly. "I guess you can stick me for compounding a felony. I told Joe to go on out there and pretend he was going through with it--to grab the money but leave the jewel case and leave no marks of a forced entry--which I thought would be a sweet double-cross on Thrip.
"But he already had a tougher double-cross planned." Shayne shrugged his shoulders. "The jewel case story was no more than a decoy to get a man of questionable character into his wife's boudoir at night so he could kill the poor devil in cold blood and hand a dumb cop like Painter a perfectly solved murder with a victim who couldn't deny his guilt. He might have got away with the whole thing if Meldrum hadn't accidentally come from his daughter's room at the psychological moment and seen him strangling his wife. Always on the lookout for a blackmail angle, Meldrum realized what his information was worth and he detained Ernst downstairs long enough to let Thrip finish the job. Does that add up?"
"A damnable tissue of lies," Thrip sputtered. "Not supported by a single provable fact. The man is insane. With not one iota of proof--"
"There's your proof." Shayne gestured toward Meldrum's note. "As soon as I read it I knew it had not been addressed to Renslow originally. Meldrum knew Renslow quite well. He knew Renslow was intimate with Mona. If he was asking Renslow to meet him in Mona's apartment, he would have said just that--Mona's apartment. Not three-o-six Terrace Apartments. The note was obviously addressed to someone unacquainted with Mona. Check up on Thrip's movements at midnight, Will, and I think you'll find he wasn't at home."
The strength oozed out of Arnold Thrip's body. He swayed back, put a trembling hand on the table to support himself, guilt in every feature and movement.
Shayne stepped back and glanced at his watch. A loud knock sounded on the door. He said, "That'll be the press. You and Painter give Rourke the story, Will. And play up my refusal to go into the jewelry insurance racket to the AP man. I want that to make headlines in the New York papers. There's an insurance executive up there who's going to come crawling on his knees when he reads how I was too ethical to play a gyp game against him."
He went to the door and admitted Rourke and another reporter, hesitated with his hand on the knob. "Before you get tied up in this press conference, Will, how's for getting on the phone and ordering Phyl released? I haven't seen that girl for more than twenty-four hours--and that's a hell of a long time to keep a man and his wife separated."
Gentry laughed and started for the telephone. Shayne hurried down the corridor with one hand deep in his pocket, where his fingers curled lovingly about the double wad of bills.
* * * *
"SHAYNE SPEAKING ... "
The elevator had just stopped in the basement of the Dade County courthouse when Shayne's roadster rolled down the incline and stopped. Phyllis stepped from the conveyance accompanied by a uniformed policeman. Shayne's car lights shone dimly in her face and he saw that she looked pale, but her chin was square and tilted as she stepped toward his roadster.
Shayne opened the door for her, and she said icily, "It was nice of you to come."
"I wouldn't have missed this for the world, angel," he said with a grin. "From now on I want to be in on and enjoy all your new experiences."
Phyllis shuddered and got in beside him. "The worst thing is that long trip in a nonstop elevator. I thought--I was--going to smother."
Shayne drove on through the basement and came out into Miami's bright sunlight on the west side. When he looked down at Phyllis she had her lower lip caught between her teeth. For a moment he thought she was going to cry. Her chin was slightly unsteady. He laughed and asked, "Well, how do you think you're going to like detecting, angel?"
She said, "Don't you start that, Michael. You could at least have come to see me and--keep me--so I wouldn't be so worried that maybe something terrible had happened to you."
"What I should do is take you straight home and give you a good beating," Shayne told her. His right arm went around her waist and held her like a vise. The wheel wobbled a little and he controlled it with his left hand.
"I wouldn't blame you," she said in a small and solemn voice. "I wouldn't blame you at all."
"There you go taking all the pleasure out of it. Who wants to beat a quiescent woman? Where's your spunk? Why don't you say, 'You and who else is going to beat me?'"
A little gurgle came out of her throat and she snuggled her face against his arm. She said, "Oh, Mike! I love you!" Shayne nearly smashed a fender on an oncoming car when he turned the corner. He was laughing outright and holding Phyllis tighter. He drove down Second Avenue and turned toward the hotel apartment just as a group of men emerged from the front door. A man was snapping pictures of the group.
Phyllis lifted her head, nudged Shayne with her elbow and said, "Look. There's Mr. Gentry. There must have been some trouble here at the hotel."
"The portly gentleman sporting the silver-plated bracelets and who is having his picture taken is none other than Arnold Thrip, angel," he told her quietly.
"Arnold Thrip?" Phyllis leaned forward and peered through the windshield. "Do you mean--was he--?"
"The white-haired man standing in the rear is Buell Renslow, Leora Thrip's brother," Shayne went on, ignoring her question. "I have an idea he is going to make up for some twenty-five years spent in the penitentiary from now on. He is one man who is going to appreciate being on the outside." Shayne grinned broadly.
"But--" Phyllis began.
"Turn off the question box," Shayne commanded playfully. "Do you think I'm going to spend this time answering questions about criminals and what not when I haven't had you in my arms for over twenty-four hours?"
"Listen, angel, tonight we're going to have dinner on the boardwalk at the Roney Plaza and listen to the ocean waves and look at the moon. I'll tell you all about everything then."
Phyllis chuckled happily as he stopped the car at a side entrance to the hotel apartment. "Thank goodness I don't have to go through the ordeal of begging you to marry me, the way I did the last time we were there," she said.
They went through the side entrance and through the lobby. Shayne stopped the desk and asked if there were any messages. The clerk shook his head negatively, and Shayne said:
"I'm expecting a long-distance call later in the afternoon. The one I want will be from New York. Don't bother me with anything else."
The clerk said, "Yes, sir," and scribbled a note on a pad.
They went up to the fourth floor and into their living-apartment. Without a word, Phyllis went into the bedroom and changed from her sports suit of flamingo and white into the blue satin hostess gown which somehow added to her poise and sedateness.
When she joined Shayne in the living-room, she said, "If you think you're going to keep me waiting until night to find out why I stayed in that horrid jail, you're mistaken." She went over to him and plopped herself into his lap and twined her arms around his neck.
Shayne grinned. "There's not much to tell except that your brilliant husband found out after his own clever fashion that Thrip was the murderer."
"Whose murderer?" she demanded.
"Everybody's. He killed his wife and Joe Darnell and Carl Meldrum." He chuckled. "Don't tell me that you didn't acquire all such relevant information from Meldrum while you were wasting your sex appeal on him. What the hell was the matter with the guy anyway? Didn't he appreciate what you had on the ball?"
Phyllis's slender body melted against him. She put a cool, smooth hand over his mouth and said, "You just hush. You know I was trying to help."
He held her tight. He kissed her dark hair and smoothed the satin gown with his big hand. "Don't ever do anything like that again, Phyl."
"I did mess things up, didn't I?" she admitted wearily.
Shayne crushed her in his arms. "You put me on the spot too, angel."
"But--after listening to Leora Thrip, I was sure Carl did it all. It was funny, though, because he was kind of drunk and he kept telling me that Leora Thrip was a fine woman and that she had a big heart."
"I have an idea she was, angel." Shayne sounded drowsy. "Meldrum saw Thrip murder his wife. He wanted Thrip to get away with it so he'd have a hold over him. He overplayed his hand when he forced Thrip to come to that apartment at midnight."
Phyllis shuddered and sat up. "It's all like a bad dream now. Do you mean that Mr. Thrip was the man who came to the apartment while I was in the bedroom scared to death? That he killed Meldrum and then slipped out again and that other man--Renslow--came in and I didn't know the difference?"
"You should have peeped through the keyhole. That's part of a detective's business." Shayne laughed lazily. "That's the way it had to be. Thrip had the time figured to a gnat's eyebrow, though he didn't ever know you were in the bedroom. That was just an added complication which must have pleased our murderous friend, and it certainly gave me plenty to think about."
Phyllis had no difficulty taking his languid arms from around her. She jumped up and said, "Let's have a drink," and hurried to the kitchen for ice water, stopped at the swinging bar to add a bottle of cognac to the ice water and two empty glasses which she carried to the coffee table. She drew the low table up to his chair, poured the drinks, and sat down in his lap again.
They sipped their drinks in silence, then Phyllis wrinkled her brow and asked, "What's to become of that poor girl Dora? Clearing Joe of murder will be a lot of satisfaction to her but, after all, she's going to have a baby."
"You keep an eye on her, angel," Shayne advised. "See that she has what she wants. You don't have to worry right away, because I sent her that thousand Leora Thrip gave us. If Dora has a boy she might even let us adopt him." Shayne was very relaxed. His mouth was grinning.
Phyllis turned on him instantly. "Why, the very idea of us--adopting a boy. You listen to me, Michael Shayne, if we want a baby boy, we'll have one of our own."
Shayne laughed until his arms fell aside weakly. Then he gathered her up and suddenly his arms were like iron clamps.
* * * *
It was six o'clock when the telephone wakened them from deep sleep. Shayne fumbled for the phone beside the bed. He yapped, "Shayne speaking," into the mouthpiece.
"Long-distance calling," said a cheerful voice. "Just a minute, please. Go ahead, New York."
Phyllis propped herself up on one elbow and yawned while her husband said, "Mike Shayne talking, Mr. Sorenson. Hold it a minute, please." He laid the receiver down and sat up, poured himself a drink from the bedside decanter.
Phyllis's eyes widened. "Who is it, Michael?"
"Just New York." He made a gesture of dismissal, look time to light a cigarette and settle back comfortably before lifting the telephone again. He said, "Go ahead," and after listening for a time, "I understand, Mr. Sorenson, but I'm afraid it isn't going to be quite that simple. I don't mind saying I was deeply hurt when you jumped at the chance to break our contract yesterday. Cut to the quick, I might say. In the new contract you'd better double my annual retainer..."
* * * *
* * * *
A new revolution was underway at the start of the 1940s in America--a paperback revolution that would change the way publishers would produce and distribute books and how people would purchase and read them.
In 1939 a new publishing company--Pocket Books--stormed onto the scene with the publication of its first paperbound book. These books were cheaply produced and, with a price of twenty-five cents on their light cardboard covers, affordable for the average American.
Prior to the introduction of the mass-market paperback, as it would come to be known, the literary landscape in America was quite different than what it is today. Reading was primarily a leisure-time pursuit of the wealthy and educated. Hardcover books were expensive and hard to find, so purchasing books was a luxury only the rich living in major metropolitan areas could afford. There simply weren't many bookstores across the country, and only gift shops and stationary stores carried a few popular novels at a time.
The Pocket Books were priced to sell, however, and sell is what they did ... in numbers never before seen. Availability also had a great effect on sales, in large part due to a bold and innovative distribution model that made Pocket Books available in drugstores, newsstands, bus and train stations, and cigar shops. The American public could not get enough of them, and before long the publishing industry began to take notice of Pocket Book's astonishing success.
Traditional publishers, salivating at the opportunity to cash in on the phenomenal success of the new paperback revolution, soon launched their own paperback ventures. Pocket Books was joined by Avon in 1941, Popular Library in 1942, and Dell in 1943. The popular genres reflected the tastes of Americans during World War II--mysteries, thrillers, and "hardboiled detective" stories were all the rage.
Like many of the early paperback publishers, Dell relied on previously published material for its early books, releasing "complete and unabridged" reprints under different titles by established authors. Within a couple of years it was focused exclusively on mysteries, identifiable by the Dell logo on the cover--a small keyhole with an eye looking through it. Many of the Dell mysteries also featured a colored map on the back cover representing the various locations pertaining to the story's crime. These "mapback" editions became extremely popular and by 1945, Dell was publishing four new books a month.
The new paperback industry was faced with some difficult challenges during World War II. In particular, the War Board's Paper Limitation order placed serious restrictions and rations on the use of paper. Publishers began to worry whether they would have enough paper to satisfy both the civilian and military appetite for paperbacks. Manpower shortages and transportation difficulties were also proving to be difficult challenges. In response, some publishers--Pocket Books, for instance--reduced their publication schedules and reset their books in smaller type thereby reducing the number of pages per book. Others simply rejected longer books in favor of shorter ones.
In the end, World War II proved to be a boon to the emerging paperback industry. During the war, a landmark agreement was reached with the government in which paperbound books would be produced at a very low price for distribution to service men and women overseas. These books--Armed Services Editions, as they were called--were often passed from one soldier or sailor to another, being read and re-read over and over again until they literally fell apart. Their stories of home helped ease the soldier's loneliness and homesickness, and they could be easily carried in uniform pockets and read anywhere--in fox holes, barracks, transport planes, etc. Of course, once the war was over millions of veterans returned home with an insatiable appetite for reading. They were hooked, and their passion for reading these books helped launch a period of unprecedented growth in the paperback industry.
The reading tastes of these veterans were directly reflected in the popularity of certain genres at the turn of the decade. In the mid- to late 1940s, mysteries, romance, thrillers, and hardboiled detective stories seemed to sell better. In the early 1950s new genres--science fiction, westerns, gay and lesbian, juvenile delinquent and "sleaze", for instance--gained in popularity as readers were presented with stories never before seen in print. Publishers also came to realize that sex would sell books ... lots of books. In a competitive frenzy for readers, they ditched their conservative and straightforward cover images for alluring covers that frequently featured a sexy woman in some form of undress, along with a suggestive tag line that promised stories of sex and violence within the covers. Before long, books with sensational covers had completely taken over the paperback racks and cash registers. To this day, the cover art of these vintage paperback books are just as sought after as the books themselves were sixty years ago.
Science fiction titles reflected the uncertain times during which they were written. The Cold War was just beginning, the threat of nuclear annihilation was on everyone's mind, governments in Eastern Europe were falling to Communists, and Senator Joseph McCarthy was looking for "un-American activities" everywhere in the United States. Many science fiction stories in the early days of the paperback revolution were little more than soap operas or westerns set in space--good guys taking on bad guys while rescuing damsels in distress--that were short stories taken from the pulp magazines. In 1952, however, Ballantine Books changed all that by becoming the first paperback publisher to release novel-length science fiction stories that were sophisticated, intelligent and thematically serious. In 1953, Ballantine Book No. 41 was released--Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451--and the paperback's science fiction genre launched like a rocket heading to Venus.
The popularity of this new genre wasn't lost on new paperback publisher, Ace Books, which became known primarily for its publication of sci-fi titles. Not content with publishing one science fiction novel at a time, Ace came up with an interesting gimmick--the double novel. Priced at thirty-five cents, the "Ace Double" featured two paperback novels bound back-to-back with the back cover appearing upside-down in the racks. The stories contained within these "double" paperbacks were novellas or long short stories, rather than novels, but the reading public didn't care--they loved getting two books for the price of one! The format also worked to the advantage of Ace Books, as they were able to combine the work of an unknown (and, therefore, less expensive) writer with that of a prominent and popular author. As a result, the careers of more than a few aspiring science fiction writers were launched via the innovative "Ace Double."
Science fiction would not be the only genre with titles flying off the shelves in the early 1950s, however. And, it is unlikely that even Gold Medal Books knew, in 1950, just how successful its first lesbian-themed paperback original novel--Women's Barracks--would be. Written by Tereska Torres, and based on her experiences in London with the French Resistance movement during World War II, the book was not intended to launch an entire lesbian genre--it was a story about women during wartime, some of whom happened to be romantically involved with other women. The story simply resonated with men and women alike--both straight and gay--and by the end of 1950 had sold more than a million copies for Gold Medal.
Women's Barracks also caught the attention of the government, unfortunately, and was singled out by the Gathings Committee as an example of how the paperback industry was subverting the morals of America. The threat of fines and incarceration made the paperback industry skittish about publishing anything that could be considered "indecent" and before long, a sort of self-censorship was in full swing. Many stories featuring characters that lived their lives outside the rules of the prevailing morality of the times soon became dark and punishing, as there could be no happy endings for those who defied convention. Still, the lesbian titles were enormously popular and soon paperback publishers--beginning with Gold Medal--realized sales would skyrocket if they moved from reprints to "paperback originals."
This move toward of the publication of original fiction by paperback companies created an immediate and strong demand for writers and provided unprecedented opportunities for women writers in particular. While it is true that some of the lesbian titles during the 1950s were written by men using female pseudonyms, a good number were written by women, many of whom were lesbians themselves. And although they were still required to write within the prescribed moral guidelines set by their editors, quite a few were able to portray the lesbian lives of their characters with a significant degree of honesty and compassion.
For lesbians across the country, especially those living isolated lives in small towns, these books provided a sense of community they never knew existed ... a connection to women who experienced the same longings, feelings and fears as they did--the powerful knowledge that they were not alone. With the birth of the lesbian-themed pulp novel, women who loved women could finally see themselves--their experiences and their lives--represented within the pages of a book. They finally had a literature they could call their own.
We are excited to make these wonderful paperback stories ... these pulp novels, as they have come to be known, available in ebook format to new generations of readers. We present them in their original form, with very little modification, so as to preserve the tone and atmosphere of the time period. In fact, much of the language--the slang, the colloquialisms, the lingo, even the spellings of some words--appear as they were written fifty or sixty years ago. We hope you will enjoy this nostalgic look back at a period in American history when dames were dangerous, tough-guys were deadly and dolls were downright delicious.
--Kathryn James, Editor
* * * *
For more classic pulp ebooks, visit us online at www.vintage-pulp-ebooks.com!
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