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The Body Came Back

The Body Came Back


Brett Halliday The Body Came Back

1

    It was very quiet and comfortably cool in the luxurious sitting room of the 8th floor hotel suite overlooking Biscayne Bay in Miami. There was only the muted whir of the airconditioning unit and the occasional tinkle of ice cubes in a glass as the sole occupant of the room sipped reflectively from her highball.
    She was a tall woman in her early forties, beautifully gowned in a dove-silk dress, seated at the end of a long sofa behind a coffee table that held a serving tray containing a fifth of Scotch, a bucket of ice cubes, and an uncapped bottle of soda. Beside the tray in front of her was an ashtray with half a dozen crushed cigarette butts in it. Her right hand held a half-filled glass of amber liquid with two partially melted ice cubes floating in it, and between the first two fingers of her left hand was a newly-lit cigarette which she held pensively an inch from her lips, squinting her eyes slightly to shut out the blue smoke that curled upward while she stared across the room at the blank wall in front of her.
    She sat peculiarly erect on the sofa, with her body scarcely touching the cushion behind her, nice legs uncrossed and high-heeled shoes flat on the rug in front of her, with a look of passivity, of waiting, on her regular features which was belied by the impression of intense though disciplined energy which flowed out of her erect posture, and the taut back and neck muscles which gave a proud lift to her head, smoothed and tightened the lines of chin and throat to form a profile of youthful beauty.
    She blinked her eyes suddenly and held them closed for a long second, dark lashes lying smoothly against the small hollows above rather high cheekbones.
    Then she gave a little impatient shake of her head, turned her left wrist to note that the hands of her watch stood at ten-thirty, then took a long drink from her glass and set it down firmly on the table, forced herself to relax against the cushion and dragged smoke deeply into her lungs.
    She knew it was preposterous for her to be keyed up like this. It might be hours before the telephone rang or there would come a knock on the door. She was determined to ration her drinks carefully to last out the waiting which might go on for hours. This was only her second drink from the bottle of Scotch which the boy had brought to the suite at nine. She would wait until eleven to pour a third one, she decided calmly. Every hour on the hour. That was the ticket. That way the Scotch would last for as many hours as it had to last, and no one could get drunk on that limited intake of alcohol.
    There was some rule about it, she knew. Some definite chemical rule. The body is capable of absorbing and neutralizing alcohol at a certain, stated rate. If you didn’t exceed that rate of intake, the percentage of alcohol in your bloodstream remained constant and you remained sober.
    But she couldn’t recall what that safe rate of intake was. She knew there were twenty-six ounces in a fifth. The moderate sort of drink she normally poured for herself was approximately one ounce. One drink every hour would make a bottle last twenty-six hours.
    That would certainly be safe enough, she decided. She knew plenty of people who often drank a full fifth during the course of a long evening without getting really tight.
    She took another slow drag on her cigarette and looked at her watch again and was irritated to discover that she had managed to kill only five minutes going through that series of intricate mental calculations. She sighed deeply and took another very small sip from her glass, and glanced down at the folded newspaper beside her on the sofa. It was a copy of yesterday’s Miami News. She had already read it from the front page back to the classified advertisements, but she picked it up again and smoothed it out in her lap.
    It lay open at the front page of the society section which she had already studied thoroughly, and her gaze was drawn again to the feature story in the center of the page which was headlined
    NUPTIALS SCHEDULED FOR NEXT SUNDAY
    It was a long, two-column story underneath a large picture of a radiantly beautiful girl gazing upward happily and adoringly into the eyes of a rather somber-faced man a dozen years older than she with a jutting jaw and windblown hair. The picture was captioned: “Vicky Andrews, recent graduate of Sarah Lawrence who is a visitor in Miami this week prior to her marriage Sunday to State Senator-Elect William C. Greer.”
    My God, she thought, biting her under-lip and gazing down at the girl’s face for perhaps the tenth time since she had first seen it, how young she is; how innocent, and how damned sure of herself. How sure of life and the future, and of love and happiness forever and ever. Was I ever that young? Did I ever believe what she believes?
    What about him? A sour-puss, if you ask me. Much too old for her. But quite a catch, I guess, from the way they lay it on thick down below.
    Yes, damn it! I was that young once, she told herself fiercely. Just that naive and starry-eyed. If you could only tell them, she thought angrily. If they’d only listen to someone who had been through the mill so they’d have some idea what to expect from marriage.
    She drew her gaze slowly away from the girl’s face and dropped it to the body of the story, gliding swiftly over the words she had already read several times:
    “One of the major social events of the Miami season will be the marriage on Sunday at 2 P.M. of Miss Vicky Andrews of New York and William C. Greer at the home of the bridegroom-to-be’s parents at 737 Seacoast Drive, Miami Beach.
    “Miss Andrews is the daughter of Mrs. Carla Andrews of Beverly Hills, California, prominent member of the film colony and well-known author of numerous motion picture and television scripts, who is flying to Miami tomorrow to join her daughter at the Encanto Hotel and attend her wedding.
    “The future bridegroom, who is the son of prominent Miami Beach residents, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Lancy Greer, is a graduate of the Yale School of Law and practiced in New York City with the firm of Overholz, Lancy, Durwent and Powers until he resigned a few months ago to return home and make a successful bid for election to a seat in the Florida State Senate.
    “Members of the wedding party from out of the city include…”
    She put the newspaper aside and pensively lowered the contents of her glass a carefully calculated half an inch, yawned slightly and leaned forward to mash out her smouldering cigarette butt.
    “Mrs. Carla Andrews of Beverly Hills, California,” she muttered aloud with a sardonic twist of her lips. “Prominent member of the film colony and well-known author of numerous motion picture and television scripts…
    Well, leaving out a couple of adjectives, it was a fair enough description. Vicky had probably given the facts to the reporter. You couldn’t blame the kid for building up her old mom. You have to put up a front, by God. If you’re going to marry a Senator named William C. Greer, you sure as hell better.
    Well, her mom hadn’t done so badly either. Put her through a swank school like Sarah Lawrence, hadn’t she? Beating her brains out in Hollywood on those lousy TV scripts and living in a two-room walk-up on the fringe of Beverly Hills.
    She sighed deeply and lit another cigarette and stole another look at her watch. 10:52. The ice had melted in her glass and there were about three healthy swallows of pale amber liquid in the bottom. She disposed of one of the swallows, letting it dribble down her throat slowly. She sure as hell wanted to be sober when the telephone rang, or…
    There was a soft knock on the outside door of the sitting room!
    She set the glass down hard and was on her feet instantly. A happy, welcoming smile lit up her face as she went swiftly to the door and opened it.
    The smile vanished when she saw and recognized the man standing on the threshold. She swayed back helplessly, holding hard onto the doorknob to support herself, her eyes narrowed and glittering with disbelief and hatred.
    Between tightly clenched teeth she grated, “No. Oh God, no!” She closed her eyes and held them shut for a long moment, willing him to go away.
    When she opened her eyes he was still there. Stepping inside the room masterfully, thin lips curled back from his teeth in a sneering smile, hands thrust deep into the side pockets of his unpressed gabardine slacks, he said, “Hi-yah, sweetheart,” in a slightly hoarse voice. “Looks like you didn’t expect me, huh?”
    She swayed back from in front of him, still holding tightly to the doorknob. “I thought you were dead,” she said in a dazed voice.
    “You mean, you hoped I was.” His lips curled away from his teeth a little farther. He turned his head slowly, small, rodent eyes surveying the luxury of the suite. “Nice, cozy layout you got here. Real nice. Sets you back a hunk of dough, I betcha. But you got plenty, haven’t you?”
    “What do you want?” she breathed venomously. “How… how did you know I was here?”
    “You know what I want. Money, baby. That lovely green stuff that makes the world go ’round.” He withdrew his right hand from his pocket and held it out in front of her, palm upward, slowly curving his talon-like fingers up into the palm to make a tight fist. “You weren’t hard to locate, baby. I got ways. I got sources of information. Close that door,” he ordered suddenly and harshly. “We got talking to do. Just the two of us.” He turned his head to survey the room again. “Real cozy, too. By God, if you haven’t got a drink set out for the old man.”
    He moved away from her toward the coffee table in front of the sofa, and she slowly closed the door behind him, biting her lower lip in a desperate effort to achieve control, pushing the door tight shut and pressing the inside latch to assure privacy.
    He dropped ice cubes into her glass on top of the dregs of her drink, and splashed whiskey on top of it while she turned her head to watch him with fear and loathing.
    He drank greedily, then cocked his head sideways to grin impudently. “That’s good liquor,” he told her approvingly. “Hits the spot.” He drank some more, then moved away from the sofa, one arm akimbo on his hip.
    “I haven’t got any money,” she said thinly. “Not very much, anyhow… with me… in cash.”
    “Well, now,” he said comfortably. “I didn’t think you’d have a whole hunk of it stashed right here. That wouldn’t stand to reason. But I guess it’s where you can put your hands on it without too much trouble. No great hurry.” He took another deep drink of straight Scotch and gestured expansively. “Just the two of us… all alone, huh? Real nice.”
    The first shock and surprise of seeing him standing in front of her door so unexpectedly was beginning to fade away. Her mind started to function again. She had to do something! She couldn’t let him stay here. At any moment now the phone might ring… or another knock come on the door…
    She said hurriedly, “I’ll give you what I have for now. If you’ll go away. Just for tonight. Tomorrow… we’ll talk about it again. We’ll arrange something. I’ll…
    “Oh, we’ll arrange something all right Never you worry about that. I’ll see to that this time. It’s the big pay-off, see? And don’t you make any mistake about that.”
    “Sure,” she said placatingly. “Sure. It’s just that you caught me by surprise. Me, thinking you were dead… you know. There were those stories in the papers. You can’t blame me for believing them.”
    He laughed harshly. “I’m hard to kill, baby. I’m tough. That’s why you vanished, huh? Because you really thought I was dead?”
    “Of course I did. Why else do you think?” She made her voice soft.
    “I think you hate my guts,” he told her evenly. “But that don’t matter now. Here we are. Just the two of us. Plenty of good liquor.” He swung his arm about in an arc. “Just you and me, huh? You’re going to like it, baby. You’re going to like it just fine.”
    He drained the glass and smacked his lips appreciatively, turned his head slowly to watch her with red-rimmed eyes as she moved slowly past him toward the closed door leading into the bedroom of the hotel suite.
    “Why don’t you pour yourself another drink?” she said breathlessly. “I think… I’ll get into something more comfortable.”
    He grinned at her approvingly. “You got the figure for it, baby. Go ahead. I could use another drink all right.”
    She opened the door hesitantly, glancing over her shoulder to reassure herself that he was moving toward the bottle on the coffee table and clearly had nothing on his mind at the moment except pouring himself another slug of Scotch.
    She slid through into the bedroom, closing the door partially behind her, but not all the way. She mustn’t do anything to arouse his suspicion. If she could just get to her suitcase on the luggage stand…
    She moved swiftly across the carpeted floor, leaving the door ajar behind her.
    The suitcase stood open and she rummaged inside it, trying desperately to remember…
    She sensed rather than heard movement behind her, and whirled about with a tiny, pearl-handled. 25 automatic clenched tightly in her fist to see him lunging toward her, hands clawed out in front of him, his face a tight mask of fury.
    She didn’t retreat from him. She moved forward to meet him instead, rammed the ugly snout of the little gun as hard as she could against his chest and began pulling the trigger.
    She continued to pull the trigger until it no longer responded… until his lifeless body had slid slowly down to the carpeted floor in front of her and he lay there without moving.

2

    Muffled as they were with the muzzle pressed closely against his clothing and body, the five small explosions sounded no louder than the popping of as many firecrackers in the hotel bedroom. The air conditioner was running in this room too, and all the windows were tightly closed, with heavy draperies drawn across them.
    She took two jerky steps backward, looking down at the dead man with hatred and loathing and then slowly transferred her gaze to the lethal little gun still clenched tightly in her hand. She forced her fingers to loosen their hold, and the pistol fell to the carpeted floor with a little plop a couple of feet from his body.
    She was still in a state of shocked incomprehension. She could feel nothing as she stood there in the silent bedroom looking down at her handiwork. No regret. Not even any real fear. Not yet. Only a vast flooding of relief that it was over. That she was done with him. That he no longer threatened her security and her future.
    She jerked her head up suddenly like a startled animal, looking all about the confines of the room and through the open door into the sitting room, listening alertly, tensed for some sound or sign of danger.
    There was no sound to be heard except the continued and comforting drone of the air conditioners. Nothing to indicate that the shots had been heard outside the four walls of the room.
    It seemed to her now that she had been holding her breath ever since her finger began pulling the trigger. She exhaled slowly and evenly, drew in another deep breath and then turned away stiffly and walked past the crumpled body on the floor without looking downward.
    With the bedroom door shut tightly behind her, she moved with trancelike steps to the coffee table and retrieved her glass from the edge where he had set it down hastily after pouring three fingers of straight whiskey into it.
    She drank half of it and choked over the fiery stuff, and then forced herself to methodically put ice cubes on top of the remaining liquor and fill the glass to the brim with soda. She took a sip of it and sank down carefully onto the sofa and lighted a cigarette.
    Her thoughts were beginning to come clearly now. She was able to appraise her situation coldly and objectively.
    There was a dead man behind the closed door of the bedroom. That was Inescapable Fact Number One. Nothing could change that. He was dead and she had killed him.
    When his body was discovered in her hotel suite it would mean the end of everything.
    She could start running, of course. She could gain a little time that way. She could get up right now and walk out of the hotel suite and pull the door shut behind her and go down the elevator and through the lobby and get a taxi outside and…
    No. No. It was useless. She was trapped. There would be an investigation and he would be identified…
    She took another fierce drag on her cigarette, trying desperately to marshal her thoughts, and then stiffened in terror at the sound of a light knock on her door.
    This time she didn’t leap gladly to her feet to open it. She sat immobile and stared at the door.
    Who was standing in the hall? Did she dare take a chance? Could she possibly brazen it out? Was it someone looking for him? Had he been followed? Did anyone know he had come here tonight?
    The knock wasn’t repeated, but in a moment she heard a small clicking sound and she watched in wide-eyed, petrified terror while the door was pushed open.
    Then a hotel maid walked in calmly. She was an elderly, gray-haired woman carrying neatly folded towels over her arm. She seemed surprised to see the woman on the sofa, evidently believing the room unoccupied when her knock went unanswered, and she hesitated a moment, saying apologetically, “Pardon, Ma’m. Check your bathroom and turn down the bed?”
    And she began walking toward the closed bedroom door.
    Time stood still. She was approaching the door stolidly. She would turn the knob and open it…
    And she could do nothing to stop her. She was absolutely paralyzed. Her vocal chords refused to answer her will. She wanted to scream at the woman… throw her glass at her… stop her before she reached that door.
    She could do nothing. She sat mute and staring with a fixed smile on her face.
    The maid had her hand on the knob. She was turning it. In a second it would be too late to stop her.
    A high-pitched squeal of agonized protest came out of her constricted throat. The maid turned her head questioningly, holding the door slightly ajar.
    She said, “No!” and the word came out throatily and strong. She suddenly found herself on her feet advancing toward the woman and making frantic gestures with her hands.
    “Don’t… you mustn’t… she heard herself stammering. “The towels are all right. I can make my own bed down.” She reached firmly for the doorknob and the maid released it, stepping back, her lined face showing bewilderment and then a sudden sly understanding.
    “All right, Ma’m. Just as you say, Ma’m.” The maid tilted her nose and sniffed and retreated across the room, went out the door with silent dignity and closed it with what was not quite a slam.
    She stood with her back defensively against the closed bedroom door, and then began to shake with hysterical laughter. The old fool thought she had a man in her bedroom. That’s what she thought.
    Well, dear God, the maid was perfectly right. She did have a man in her bedroom. A dead one, but a man for all that.
    Her hysteria went away as swiftly as it had come, and the imminent danger of her position became clearer to her than before. The maid was safely routed, but who would be next? A bell-boy coming for the empty tray? A repairman who had a report that her air conditioner was not functioning properly? She couldn’t stand guard here against all of them. Suppose the hotel were to catch on fire? Suppose… suppose…?
    This wouldn’t do. This wasn’t like her. She wouldn’t give way to panic.
    She wouldn’t. She wouldn’t. She wouldn’t.
    No. She would sit down and calmly take a drink and assess the situation. There must be something she could do. Some way out. If she could just get him out of here. Let his body be discovered somewhere else. Any place else except her hotel suite.
    She sat down and drank from her glass, not too calmly, it is true, but with puckered brow and her thoughts beginning to mesh again.
    How had he found her here in Miami? Did anyone else know he had come to her room, or that he had traced her to this hotel and planned to see her? What sort of identification did he have on him?
    In other words, if she could discover some way to remove his body and have it found elsewhere… how likely was it that he could be traced back to this hotel suite?
    She emptied her glass and set it on the table and got to her feet. Those questions needed answering, and some of the answers might be in her bedroom.
    She went to the door and opened it unhesitatingly and stood on the threshold looking down at him. He lay on his side exactly as he had fallen with five. 25 caliber bullets in him. His back was toward her from where she stood, and she could see no blood in evidence.
    She walked around him, frowning, and crouched down in front of him. There wasn’t much blood. Just a wide, reddish stain on the front of his yellow sport shirt. If his jacket were buttoned together in front there would be nothing to show the cause of his death.
    Her fingers were steady as she began checking the insides of his pockets. A pack of cigarettes and book of matches with a Hunt’s Tomato Sauce Recipe in his shirt pocket. Both outer and inner breast pockets of his jacket were empty. So was the left side pocket. There was a square of cardboard in the other side jacket pocket, and she rocked back on her heels to study it.
    It was a parking ticket from the hotel parking lot. There was no time stamped on it. Just a numbered ticket for a parked car.
    Thoughtfully, she replaced it in the pocket where she had found it. So he had driven a car to the hotel? Alone? Or with a friend who was waiting downstairs in the lobby or cocktail lounge? Someone who might already be getting impatient and wondering why he was taking so long.
    It was impossible to tell.
    His right hip pocket was empty, but there were some bills and silver in the right side pocket of his slacks. Two fives and three ones and a quarter and a dime.
    She returned the money, and then had to roll him over on his back to explore the other two pockets. His body was limp and it rolled easily, seeming curiously weightless. She wondered if bodies were always so easy to roll about.
    There was only a crumpled handkerchief in his left pocket, nothing in the side one. No wallet. No identification of any sort. Of course, there were laundry marks, she realized. And fingerprints. But those normally took some time to check out.
    And what she needed was time.
    Time to think. Time to make plans. Time to set up defenses against the possible repercussions of his death.
    She glanced at the small pistol lying beside his body and decided it might as well remain there. It could not be traced to her.
    Fingerprints?
    Probably not, but better be sure. She picked it up in her bare hand and rubbed the smooth surfaces carefully. Not with a handkerchief as fools were always doing in books, thus making it evident that fingerprints had been removed, but with her fingers so there would be smeared prints left, but with no recognizable pattern.
    Then, satisfied that there was no more to be done in the bedroom, she arose and went back to the sitting room, thinking deeply.
    She poured herself another, very moderate drink, added the rest of the soda, and faced her problem.
    She needed help.
    She needed that corpse out of her bedroom… and fast.
    And she didn’t know a single soul in Miami to whom she could turn for help.
    All sorts of wild ideas went through her mind as she sat there drinking slowly, her eyes narrowed to slits while she considered the problem.
    Go down to the lounge and pick up a complete stranger, make a play for him and invite him up, and then explain to him that she had a peculiar aversion to going to bed in a room with a corpse and if he’d get rid of the body she’d be happy to oblige?
    You’d have to pick your guy damned carefully. Find one who had a lot of guts and not too much respect for the law, and who knew his way around Miami and had some experience in disposing of corpses.
    That was a pretty big order. To just go down to the lounge and spot such a guy and entice him up.
    Then an idea took hold of her. And it began to grow. And the more she considered it the less unfeasible it became.
    As a city, Miami was noted for many and various things. There was its climate, the luxury hotels, the white sands of its bathing beaches, the beautiful race tracks, the tropical foliage… and there was a private detective named Michael Shayne.
    She didn’t know him personally, but she knew a lot about him. Of course, everyone who watched television or read paperbacks knew a lot about him. Knew that he had plenty of guts and not too much respect for the law… that he definitely knew his way around Miami and had had a certain amount of experience in disposing of corpses.
    But she had further knowledge about the kind of guy he was. What really made him tick. What kind of sob-story he’d go for, and what he wouldn’t. Personalized knowledge from years back in Hollywood.
    Her narrowed eyes took on an excited glitter as she considered the situation. If she could get him on her side… she had it made.
    And, by God she could!
    She nodded slowly and emphatically. All it needed was the right approach.
    She turned her gaze slowly aside to yesterday’s paper lying open at the society page with the picture of the happily betrothed couple looking up at her.
    Vicky Andrews and State Senator-Elect William C. Greer!
    Who could fail to be moved by that picture of youthful innocence and love and faith in the future? Not Michael Shayne. Not from everything she knew about him.
    She began planning excitedly, glancing at her watch as she did so. It was only 11:17. God in heaven! Had so much actually happened in so few minutes?
    It was probably a good time to call him at home. Before he settled in for the night or drank so muck cognac that he wouldn’t be able to handle the situation intelligently.
    She had to get her story in order first. Let’s see, now. How had he found her in Miami?
    She read the newspaper account of the anticipated wedding slowly again, absorbing every word of it, nodding her head slowly.
    That would do it. But how convince the redheaded detective? Then it came to her. A lovely burst of inspiration. She picked up the paper and tore out the entire wedding story, including the picture of the engaged couple. She didn’t attempt to make a neat job of it, just tore it jaggedly around the four sides of the story. Then she crumpled it a little between her hands, smoothed it out and folded it two ways. She pressed the creases together tightly, then opened it again for careful scrutiny. It looked about right, she thought. Not too well-worn, because it was just yesterday’s paper after all, but as though it had been thumbed and read several times.
    She refolded it and went into the bedroom, kneeled down beside the body and placed it in the jacket pocket. Then she returned to the sitting room and sat down at the desk in a corner of the room, found blank sheets of hotel stationery and a ball-point pen.
    She hesitated a long moment with her pen poised over the paper, then took a deep breath and began writing swiftly, letting the words flow out of her, not worrying about correct punctuation or pausing to dot her i’s or cross more than half of the t’s.
    She wrote. “Dear Mom-I don’t know how to say this-I can’t think straight-I’m scared to death and sick at my stomach. I just killed a man…”
    She continued writing as fast as the pen would flow over the paper, covering three and a half pages before ending it, “Vicky.”
    She sat back and carefully read what she had written, and found it good.
    She then crumpled the four sheets together in a tight fist, dropped them to the desk and reached for the Miami telephone book.
    When she found the number, she lifted the receiver and asked the operator to get it for her.

3

    Michael Shayne was slouched in an easy chair in the living room of his apartment with a final nightcap of straight cognac within easy reach of his right hand when his telephone rang.
    He frowned at the instrument and perversely let it go on ringing. Long experience had taught him that unexpected calls at this time of night were very likely to mean trouble, and right now the redhead wasn’t in a mood for trouble. He had no cases on the fire and knew of no reason in the world for anyone to disturb him at home shortly before midnight.
    It continued to ring monotonously, and after six insistent b-r-r-r-s he sighed and reached out to lift it from its cradle. He said, “Mike Shayne,” and a woman’s voice answered him. It was a throaty, modulated voice with overtones of deep emotional stress, and it throbbed with thankfulness:
    “Thank God you’re there. I was afraid… She paused abruptly and he could almost see her getting a grip on herself, forcing herself to speak calmly and say the words she had planned to say when she made the call.
    “You won’t recognize my name, Mr. Shayne. It’s Carla Andrews. But we do have a mutual friend. Brett Halliday.”
    “You’re a friend of Brett’s?”
    “I know him… knew him quite well in Hollywood a couple of years ago when they were filming his television series. He told me then… that if I ever found myself in Miami and in trouble I should call on you. I’m in Miami, Mr. Shayne… and I’m in desperate trouble.” Her voice rose and broke on the last two words, and a sibilant sound that was almost a sob lingered on after they were spoken.
    “What kind of trouble?”
    “Your kind. I… oh God, I hardly know how to say it, but… there’s a dead man in my bedroom.”
    “How did he get there?” Shayne demanded.
    “I can’t explain over the phone. Won’t you come? Please. This very instant. I’m at my wit’s end.”
    “Where, Miss Andrews?”
    “The Encanto Hotel. That’s on Biscayne Boulevard…”
    “I know the Encanto,” he interrupted. “In ten minutes.”
    “Room Eight-Ten. I’ll be… waiting.”
    Shayne hung up and clawed the knobby fingers of his left hand through his bristly red hair while he lifted his cognac glass and drained it. He got to his feet swiftly and picked up a light sport jacket from the back of a chair nearby and shrugged his wide shoulders into it, then went out of the room with long strides.
    His car was already put up for the night in the hotel garage, and it took him the better part of five minutes to get it backed out and headed east toward the bayfront. The Encanto was only a dozen blocks north, facing the bay, and in less than ten minutes he pulled under the entrance canopy and got out.
    He strode around the front of his car to receive a salute and a parking stub from the uniformed doorman who asked, “Will you be long, Sir?”
    “Not too long.” Shayne grinned mirthlessly to himself as he hurried through the open doors and across the lobby toward the elevators. How the hell did he know how long he would be? A friend of Brett’s from Hollywood with a dead man in her bedroom!
    A half-filled car waited for him to step inside, and went up smoothly, discharging passengers at the fourth and seventh floors.
    He was the only one who got off at the eighth. There were signs with arrows, and he followed the arrows around a corner and down a wide, well-lighted hall with his heels thudding softly in the thick carpet.
    He stopped in front of 810 and knocked, and the door opened instantly.
    The woman who faced him across the threshold was tall and willowy, and appeared to be about forty. Her body was well-fleshed, though not excessively, and in the right places. She had lustrous coal-black hair combed smoothly back from a wide smooth forehead, and very dark eyes which glowed as though with unspilled tears. She managed to look terrified and happy and relieved all at the same time, and both her hands went out to clasp his convulsively while her eyes searched his rugged face and she exclaimed throatily, “Mike Shayne! I think I’d have known you anywhere.”
    She held both his hands tightly and drew him into the room, backing away at arm’s length with her intense gaze fixed on his face as though she drew strength and assurance from what she saw there. “It was so good of you to come. I don’t know how to tell you…
    He said gruffly, “Any friend of Brett’s… any time. How is the old so-and-so?”
    “It’s been more than a year since I’ve seen him. I don’t know whether he’s still on the Coast or not.” She released his hands and moved around him to close the door.
    “He settled in Santa Barbara after the show was canceled,” Shayne told her, standing flat-footed just inside the room and surveying it carefully, noting the ice bucket and Scotch bottle and one glass on the coffee table. The ash tray beside it holding half a dozen crushed butts… the closed door leading into the bedroom.
    He turned to her slowly with lifted eyebrows and added pointedly, “You didn’t ask me over here to discuss Brett, Miss Andrews. You said something about a dead man…?”
    “You’d better… see for yourself.” She nodded toward the bedroom with her eyes wide and glistening, and a single tear slid slowly down each cheek.
    Shayne turned on his heel and strode to the bedroom door. He opened it and looked down at the dead man lying on his back a few feet inside the room. He moved closer, noting the bloodstains on the front of his shirt, the tiny pearl-handled automatic on the carpet just beyond. He leaned down and pressed the back of his hand against the corpse’s neck, and guessed that he had been dead between thirty minutes and an hour. He straightened up and thrust his hands deep in his pockets and made a careful survey of the room, noting the neatly made twin beds that had not been turned down for the night, an array of toilet articles on the vanity near the bathroom door, an overturned open suitcase beside a luggage stand at the foot of one of the beds.
    He went back and closed the door behind him, and found the woman composedly seated at the end of the sofa leaning forward to reach for the Scotch bottle which was a little more than a quarter full. She looked up at him carefully, studying his face for a clue to his reaction toward what he had seen in the bedroom, and said steadily, “There’s ice but no soda left. And only one glass. I’m sorry there’s no cognac, but… I d-didn’t kn-know I was going to entertain Mike Shayne t-tonight.” She tried to keep her voice light, but it broke at the end and she put her hands to her face and began sobbing.
    Shayne lit a cigarette and moved to the other end of the sofa and sat down. When her sobbing subsided, he asked matter-of-factly, “Who is he, Carla?”
    “My… husband.”
    “Why did you kill him?”
    “I didn’t,” she exclaimed vehemently. “I found him like that. I was so utterly surprised. I haven’t seen him for years. I thought he was dead,” she wailed, the sobs beginning again. “I thought that was all ended… that I’d never in my life see his nasty face again. And I walked in and there he lay. Dead. Oh God, what am I going to do?”
    “Get hold of yourself and tell me about it,” he ordered emotionlessly. “You say you walked in. When?”
    “About… half an hour ago. Maybe more. It was a little after eleven. I flew in from the West Coast and my flight was late. It was a little after eleven when I reached the hotel. I came straight up to the suite expecting my daughter to meet me. She’s been here several days and I knew the room number. When she didn’t answer the door, the boy let me in with his key, and I had him just set my bags down there and go on.” She nodded toward a smart overnight bag and a small hatbox on the floor near the front door. “Thank God he’d gone before I opened the bedroom door and saw Al lying there on the floor. I suppose I had a slight case of hysterics,” she admitted ruefully. “I called out for Vicky, and ran into the bathroom looking for her, and looked in the closet and even under the bed. But there was just Al. Alone on the floor and dead. And Vicky’s pistol on the floor. One I bought for her five years ago when we had a prowler around our house in Laurel Canyon. And I came back in this room and, well… you’d better read it, Mike. You don’t mind if I call you Mike, do you?” She was fumbling nervously inside the bodice of her dove-gray gown and drew out several crumpled sheets of hotel stationery which she smoothed out with trembling fingers. “I found this note lying over on the desk.” She nodded across the room. “First I thought I should destroy it, and then… then I remembered you were in Miami. You read it and tell me what to do, Mike.” She thrust the sheets of paper into his hand.
    He spread them out and began reading the excitedly scrawled words:
    “Dear Mom-I don’t know how to say this-I can’t think straight-I’m scared to death and sick at my stomach. I just killed a man. He’s lying in the bedroom-dead. I shot him, Mom. With that little automatic pistol you gave me several years ago. Remember?
    “Who ever thought I’d use it? I didn’t. I wasn’t sure I knew how. But it was easy. It just went Pow, Pow, Pow-and that did it.
    “I know I sound crazy. I feel crazy. Like I could just jump right out of my skin. I better start from the beginning and tell you.
    “I was waiting for you, Mom. I had the bell-boy bring up a bottle of Scotch and some ice and soda so it would be here waiting for you to have a drink when your plane got in. And I was so happy and I guess I sort of dozed off waiting for you and I woke up suddenly when there was this knocking on the door. I didn’t notice what time it was. I just thought it was you, and I trotted to open the door and there stood this man.
    “I didn’t know what to do, Mom. I was still groggy and half-awake, I guess. I never saw him before and he smelled of whiskey and was positively disgusting and he squinted up his eyes at me and said, ‘Where’s Carla?’
    “I still wasn’t thinking straight because I should have slammed the door in his face, but I just said, ‘She isn’t here yet, and who are you?’
    “And he pushed in past me with a nasty grin on his face and headed straight for the whiskey bottle that I had set out for you in front of the sofa, and over his shoulder he smirked at me and said, ‘Carla’ll tell you who I am all right when she gets here. You must be Vicky, huh?’
    “And he poured a big drink of straight whiskey and tipped it up, and I was purely petrified, Mom. He knew your name and mine and seemed to be expecting you and-well, I’ve been away the last few years and I know you always did know the weirdest characters out there in Hollywood, producers and writers and like that, so I just thought he was another one of them that you had arranged to meet here in Miami and so I didn’t want to make a fuss, and I just said yes I was Vicky and I was expecting you to arrive any minute.
    “He said that was fine and he’d wait and he and I could have a good time getting acquainted with each other while we waited for you-huh? And I began to get scared, Mom. I had a funny, queasy feeling inside me. The way he looked at me and licked his lips-and old enough to be my father too.
    “He started pouring the whiskey down and I knew he was already loaded to the gills, but I saw it was almost eleven o’clock and your plane was due in at ten so I thought you’d be coming along any minute-and I knew you’d know how to handle him without making any fuss, so I just said, ‘Sure,’ and that was fine, but I circled around him toward the bedroom thinking I’d go in and shut the door and leave him for you to take care of.
    “And he jumped at me just as I was going in, and started cursing me and asking me what I thought I was going to do in there-‘Call the cops, huh?’ That’s what he kept asking, and his face was just awful and he said ‘No you don’t. Oh, no you don’t,’ and I pulled away from him and tried to run into the bathroom where I could lock the door but he caught me and dragged me back and started to choke me.
    “I think he meant to, Mom. I really do. I don’t know why. Except he was drunk and just about crazy-mad. But he threw me down on the floor and tried to choke me and we knocked my suitcase off the rack and a lot of things tumbled out including that little pistol.
    “Mom. I don’t know. Right now I don’t know for sure. Whether I meant to do it or not. But I grabbed it and pushed it up against him and it went Pow, Pow, Pow. Not very loud. Nothing like I thought a pistol would really sound.
    “But that did it, Mom. His hands went loose around my neck and he rolled off to the side and lay there and right then all at once I knew he was dead. I knew I’d killed him. That I’d murdered a man.
    “I didn’t know what to do. I ran out and closed the door as if that would make it all right. And I thought what if someone comes before Mom does. What will they do to me? They hang you for committing murder.
    “And then I called the airport and they said your plane was late and they didn’t know when you’d arrive, and so then I just gave up.
    “I’m writing this so you’ll find it and know what’s happened. I’ve got to get out of here. I can’t stay here with him. I’ll go to some hotel where they don’t know me and register under another name-and maybe tomorrow I should go to South America, Mom. You’ll know best. I know you’ll rally round and cope. You always do.
    “I’ll telephone every hour or so until I get you. If I call when the police are here and you can’t talk, just pretend it’s someone else and I’ll understand and I’ll call you back an hour later.
    “I can’t stay here cooped up in this room. I’ll get the screaming meemies. Mom, I can’t ever tell Bill. Everything is ruined. I wish I’d killed myself instead of him.
    “I can’t wait any longer. Somebody might come. I’m going now. Out into the night. I’ll call you. Mom, wait for me to call you here. I don’t know what else to do.
    “Vicky”

4

    Michael Shayne stared down thoughtfully at the sheets of paper in his hand for a long moment after he finished reading them. Then he sighed and laid the four pages down on the table in front of him and turned to look at the woman seated at the other end of the sofa.
    She was sitting very erect with her hands twisted together in her lap. Her gaze was fixed and intense, directly in front of her, and she appeared completely unaware of his presence. Her clean-cut profile was like a tragic mask. She did not start or perceptibly move a muscle when he spoke quietly:
    “Is the man her father?”
    “Yes.” Still immobile. Still staring straight ahead.
    “Why didn’t she recognize him at once?”
    “She’s never seen her father. She thinks he’s dead. In fact, I thought he was dead.” She turned her head slowly. “It’s a long drab story, Mike. Are you willing to listen to it?”
    “In a moment. First: Where’s Vicky now?”
    “I don’t know. I’ve been waiting for her to call… praying for her to… and yet, dreading it. What am I going to say to her? What shall I tell her to do?”
    “Tell her to get back here,” Shayne said flatly. “You can’t run away from reality. Once you start running, you can never stop. This isn’t so bad. A clear case of self-defense if her story is true.”
    “She killed her own father.”
    “Unknowingly and to protect herself. She has to face it now, Carla.”
    “All right,” she agreed submissively. “When she calls I’ll tell her. I guess we’re in your hands now, Mike Shayne. I’m at the end of my rope. Maybe I shouldn’t have called you,” she went on wildly. “Maybe I should have taken a chance…”
    “Calling me was the best thing you ever did,” he told her quietly. “Now: Before we get the police in on this I’d like to have all the background I can get.”
    “The police? Oh, God, I thought… I hoped that maybe you…”
    “Not a chance,” Shayne told her calmly. “This is homicide even though it is self-defense. I’m sticking my neck out as it is by not reporting it immediately. But I don’t see that a few minutes either way can make much difference. Actually, it will look a lot better for Vicky if she is here to give herself up when the police come. How old is your daughter, by the way?”
    “Twenty-one, Mike. Just past twenty-one. She… was to be married tomorrow. That’s why she was in Miami. I flew in for the wedding… my darling, little girl. Oh, God, I can’t realize yet…” Her face broke into pieces as she fought for self-control. She won the battle and smiled wanly, a ravaged and pitiful smile.
    “But I promised to tell you about Al… Donlin was his name. I was just eighteen when I eloped with him from a little farm in Ohio. I think the only reason he married me was because he hoped to stay out of the draft. But it didn’t work and they took him in the army anyhow… a few months before Vicky was born. I was glad. I didn’t want her to know her father. He was mean and sadistic and shiftless. I went home when Vicky was born and he didn’t write from the army. They forced him to give us part of his pay as an allotment, but that stopped when the war was over and he was discharged.
    “I left home then, with Vicky and went to Denver and found a job to support the two of us. I used my maiden name and made my parents promise to never tell Al where I was. And they didn’t. He came back and pestered them some, and then drifted away, and I heard later that he’d been sent to prison for knifing a man in a drunken brawl, and I was glad and put him out of my mind.
    “And I made a new life for Vicky and myself in Denver. I got into a newspaper job and was finally doing feature articles for the Woman’s Page on the Denver Post. Then, about seven years ago… Vicky was fourteen, I remember, they ran a little story about me in the paper with a picture of Vicky and me at home. I thought nothing of it. I believed Al was still in prison… had practically forgotten that he existed… until he turned up in Denver one day.
    “He’d seen the story and our picture in the paper some place, and hitch-hiked to Denver. He wanted to move in with me, demanded money, threatened all sorts of things. I stalled him off… promised to borrow money the next day and give him a thousand dollars… and that night I packed up and left Denver.
    “You say it never pays to run, Mike. Well, I ran that time and I think it paid off. I couldn’t stand the thought of Vicky ever seeing him… knowing him as a father. I didn’t tell her the truth. I told her I’d had an offer to write for the movies in Hollywood and we had to go at once. That very night. We made an exciting game out of it. I told her a vague story about being under contract to the newspaper and the mean old editor wouldn’t release me to take the movie job, and so we were going anyhow. I had a car and we drove straight through to Los Angeles, and I used that story as an excuse to Vicky for changing our name when we got there… and I became Carla Andrews, and, by God, I made it pay off, Mike.
    “From my newspaper experience I knew enough about writing to get some small assignments and wangle my way in to see producers… and within a year I was doing scripts for some of the top shows.
    “That’s how I met Brett Halliday. I wrote several segments for the television series at Four Star featuring Richard Denning as you. I read practically all the books Brett had written about you and had several story conferences with him, and got to know him quite well… the way people do in Hollywood. I worked at my job of writing, Mike. I felt I could do a better script if I knew about you. The real you. What sort of man you were and what made you tick. And from things Brett told me, and things he had written about you, I felt you were the one man in the world I could turn to tonight when I walked in here and saw Al dead on the floor. I thought to myself: In all the world there’s only Mike Shayne who could help me out of this mess… and by the damnedest coincidence it had happened right here in your home-town and all I had to do was pick up the phone and call you and everything would be all right.”
    Shayne lifted a big hand uncomfortably as she ended. He said drily, “Brett’s a fiction writer and he has a way of exaggerating about me. You didn’t hear from your husband after leaving Denver?”
    “Not directly. Months later my folks wrote me that they’d heard rumors that Al had tried to rob a filling station in Western Kansas and been killed in the attempt. I accepted that gladly and proceeded to forget that I had ever been Mrs. Al Donlin. I did well in Hollywood and sent Vicky East to school. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence with honors and then took a job in New York where she met a young lawyer from Miami who became her fiance. I told you… the wedding is scheduled to take place tomorrow.” She paused and corrected herself fiercely, “was.”
    “How do you suppose Al came to this hotel tonight?”
    “Only God can answer that. I’ve thought and thought. I don’t see how he could have known. If he had been aware that I was Carla Andrews… making good money in Hollywood… I’m certain he would have been after me long ago. But if he didn’t know the name I was using, I don’t see how on earth… Her voice trailed off. “I guess it doesn’t matter… really. Somehow, he found his way here tonight. I don’t know whether he’s been living in Miami… what he’s been doing over these years… whether he’s still using his own name. I don’t know whether he’s got cronies here… whether anyone else knew he was coming here tonight… or anything.”
    Shayne got to his feet. “It won’t hurt to take a look while we’re waiting for Vicky to call you.”
    He went into the bedroom and closed the door behind him. When he returned a few minutes later he had the folded newspaper clipping in one hand and the parking ticket in the other. “Looks as though he has a car and drove it here tonight.” He laid the ticket down and unfolded the clipping she had torn from the paper and she watched his face breathlessly while he studied it.
    “This may be the answer.” He sat down beside her and spread the clipping out for her to see. “It’s yesterday’s paper. Is that a good likeness of your daughter?”
    “Oh, yes! It’s perfect.” Tears came into her eyes as she studied the picture and she resolutely brushed them away. “Such a happy couple,” she breathed. “It’s the first picture I’ve seen of him except a tiny snapshot Vicky sent me months ago.” She began reading the story beneath the picture, her lips moving slightly as she read.
    “I mean,” said Shayne patiently, “would he be likely to recognize her from it? It even mentions what hotel she’s staying at. But that can’t be it,” he went on impatiently. “I forgot you said he’d never even seen his daughter.”
    “But there was that picture of her when she was fourteen years old in the Denver paper,” she reminded him excitedly. “He did see that. And she looks just the same today. Hardly a day older. I bet that’s it! And my name… Carla. I should have changed it in California, I suppose, but I just didn’t bother. I was afraid I’d forget to answer to another name.”
    “No wallet in his pockets,” Shayne told her. “No identification and nothing to show where he lives or where he came from. A few dollars in his pocket. Just a car parked downstairs with a number on it corresponding to this ticket. It’ll have a registration card.”
    “Mike,” she said in a quavering voice, putting her hand tightly on his arm. “Look at Vicky there. Look at her face. So young and innocent. So full of hope and love. Does she have to suffer? Does her life have to be ruined? What has she done to deserve that?”
    “She’s a beautiful girl,” Shayne said awkwardly. “But nothing terrible is going to happen to her, Carla. Not if she faces up to it. No Florida jury is going to convict a girl like that of shooting a man in self-defense. In fact, if handled properly I doubt there’ll even be a trial.”
    “But there’ll be the publicity. Every sordid word of it spread out in headlines. Look at him, Mike.” She put her fingertip beneath the picture of Vicky’s fiance. “A senator! Son of an old Southern family. Their wedding the society event of the season! She killed her own father, Mike. Don’t forget that. You know what the papers will do with it. You know what the senator will do. And think about the child herself, Mike. No matter what happens, once she finds out the truth she’ll always have to live with the fact that she killed her own father. Think how that will warp her. Is that fair? Is it right?”
    “A lot of things happen in this world that aren’t right, Carla. This thing has happened. You’ve got to face it.”
    “Why?” she cried vehemently. “Why does Vicky have to face it? Isn’t it enough for her to know that she has killed a man? That’s no small burden to live with. Why make it worse?”
    “I don’t think I understand.”
    “If we could just let it go at that. If we could… get his body away from here, Mike. Let it be found some other place. You say there’s no identification on him.”
    “But he’s got a police record. He’ll eventually be identified by his fingerprints.”
    “All right,” she cried out defiantly. “He’ll be identified as Al Donlin, ex-convict. Nothing in the world to connect him with Vicky Andrews. He’ll be dead and buried and no one will really care who killed him. Let it be marked off as an unsolved murder.”
    “But your Vicky will still know,” he reminded her.
    “What will she know?” she flared. “She will know that an unknown stranger forced himself in here and she was forced to defend herself. I’ll think up some story to satisfy her, Mike. I’ll say he’s a man I met in California after she went off to school who was my lover for a time, and has been bothering me ever since. You can see by her note that he didn’t really tell her anything. She’ll be able to sleep in peace believing that. She’ll be able to go through her marriage tomorrow… go on and find the happiness she deserves in life. She’s strong. I know my Vicky. Given the ghost of a chance, she’ll throw this off and forget about it in a few months.”
    “It’s against the law to move a body in a homicide case, Carla,” Shayne told her. “It’s also against the law not to report one to the police immediately.” He looked at his watch and frowned. “It’s past midnight. I can’t wait much longer for Vicky to call you.”
    “You mean that, Mike? You really mean it?” She looked at him wonderingly. “You won’t even lift a finger to help?”
    “When I was licensed by the state I took an oath to uphold the law,” he told her mildly. “In that respect I’m no different from a policeman.”
    “Uphold the law?” She spat out the words contemptuously. “What devious crimes are committed every day in the sacred name of the law. You’re just mouthing words, Mike. My child’s life is at stake. You have already said she will be exonerated by a court… that there probably won’t even be a trial. What difference, then, does it make if his body is found a mile from here? It will simply save her from a nasty scandal… from the utter ruination of a young life. Think about it, Mike. I’m not asking much. Nothing wrong. Nothing that will in any way change the end result. If she were a criminal and I were asking you to let her go free it would be different. But she’s done nothing criminal in the eyes of the law you prate about. You admit that yourself. Then why, in the name of God, should she be publicly pilloried?”
    He shook his head doggedly. “I can’t be judge and jury. God knows, I’ll help any way I can, Carla. I have a certain amount of influence with the authorities and with the newspapers in Miami. If she comes back and gives herself up, we may be able to keep the whole affair very quiet and out of the papers.”
    She said bitterly, “You know that is a false hope, Mike. With Vicky engaged to marry Senator William C. Greer of Miami Beach tomorrow afternoon. You say you’ll help any way you can. What you mean is that you refuse to take a chance by helping her. You’ll help any way you can without sticking your neck out.
    “And I was fool enough to believe those stories Brett used to tell me about you. The way you ran circles around the cops here and on the Beach. The way I remember it from a couple of the books Brett wrote about your cases, it wouldn’t be the first time you moved a body in a homicide case. What about that girl who was murdered in your hotel room just when your wife was going off on a vacation? You and that reporter friend of yours drove half over the city of Miami swapping her body from one car to another.”
    “But that was…” Shayne tried to cut in on the flow of words, but she rushed on:
    “And another time there was the body in your secretary’s bedroom. You didn’t have any moral qualms about lugging his corpse down the fire escape and loading it into your car.”
    “But Lucy was in deadly danger that time,” Shayne pointed out angrily. “If the cops had found the body there…”
    “And it’s my little girl who’s in deadly danger this time,” she interrupted him. “It’s not your secretary… or you. It’s Vicky. I wish to God now I hadn’t ever telephoned you,” she went on viciously. “I could have done something. Thrown it out the window, maybe. Anything would be better than just to leave him lying there. But I’d listened to Brett telling all his stories about you and what a great guy you were, so now I’m stuck with you. I don’t suppose you’d even be willing right now to walk out of this room and forget you ever saw me,” she ended forlornly. “Let me try to figure out something for myself.” Shayne compressed his lips and got up and strode across the room and stopped in front of a mirror to look at his reflection curiously.
    The hell of it was… there was so much truth in what she was saying. Certainly, justice would not be served by leaving the body in the bedroom and having Vicky and her mother crucified by the public press. He had taken matters in his own hands in the past without any inner qualms about the legality of his actions.
    But, as she pointed out so scathingly, that had been when he was endangered… or someone close to him like Lucy.
    Is that the kind of selfish guy you really are, he asked himself in the mirror. When the chips are really down, haven’t you got the guts to do for someone else what you wouldn’t hesitate to do for yourself? Have you been kidding yourself all these years? Kidding Brett and the public to the point that a woman like this thinks you will come to her help, and entrusts her daughter’s future to you… and you refuse because it’s too much trouble and might get you in bad with the cops?
    Looking at himself in the mirror, he knew he wasn’t that kind of selfish guy. He had just got complacent and lazy these last few easy-going years. He’d been riding on his reputation and collecting big fees that involved no personal danger and little real difficulty.
    He grinned at the mirror suddenly, and his reflection grinned back at him, looking a dozen years younger and a dozen years more reckless than he remembered himself looking for a long time.
    A trace of the grin still lingered on his face as he turned back toward the sofa and said very gently, “You sit tight here for Vicky to call. If she does… tell her to sit tight wherever she is until I see if I can work an angle or two.”

5

    “Do you mean…? Oh, thank God, Mike. You are going to help.” She came to her feet with a rush, her face transfigured with newborn hope, both hands outstretched.
    He caught her hands and held them tightly. “I’m going to see what I can do. That’s all I can promise right now. If I hit it lucky and things work out right, we may be able to keep your daughter out of this mess. If she calls before I get back, just tell her to stay put and not do anything foolish until you call her.”
    “I know you can do it,” she breathed. “I know everything will be all right.”
    “Just leave everything as it is,” he told her, releasing her clinging hands. “Including that whiskey bottle,” he ended half jocosely and half seriously. “From the looks of it you’ve had plenty during the time you’ve been in this room.”
    “It wasn’t full when I got here, Mike,” she defended herself. “He must have had a couple of drinks. And maybe Vicky had one or two while she was waiting for me. She does take a drink now and then.”
    He shrugged and went to the coffee table to pick up the parking stub he had found in the dead man’s pocket, studied it a moment and then placed it in his own pocket. He picked up the four sheets of paper and folded them carefully while she watched him, and she exclaimed impulsively, “Can’t we tear her note up, Mike? Isn’t that dangerous evidence to have around? If anything does go wrong, I’d prefer to tell the police I killed him. It’s in her handwriting, and…”
    Shayne said, “That’s why I intend to keep it… in case something does go wrong. I’m not going to destroy evidence in a homicide, Carla. I may tamper with it or twist it a little bit, but that’s as far as I’ll go.”
    He started to go out, then turned back slowly, looking down at his big hands and flexing them indecisively. Gloves were something men just didn’t have on tap in Miami. He said, “Would you let me have a pair of your stockings, Carla?”
    “My stockings?” Instinctively she glanced down at her nylon-sheathed legs. “Do you mean…?”
    “I mean a pair of stockings,” he told her patiently. “Old ones are all right.” He grinned faintly at the look of bewilderment on her face. “In the olden days the ladies used to give their knights a garter to wear when they went out to joust for them. I prefer a pair of nylons.”
    She wet her lips and returned his grin with an uncertain smile. It was evident she hadn’t the faintest idea what he was driving at, but she turned obediently and knelt beside the closed overnight case on the floor. She unsnapped it and opened the lid, straightened up with a pair of fresh stockings still in the cellophane envelope in which they had been purchased. “Are these all right?”
    “Just fine.” He shoved them into his pocket and patted her cheek.
    He then turned to the door decisively. “I shouldn’t be long. Not more than fifteen or twenty minutes. Lock the door and don’t let anyone in until I come. I’ll knock twice and then three times.” He went out without looking back at her.
    The long corridor was empty, and he stood there for a moment, looking up and down the length of it and tugging gently at his left ear-lobe. It ended in a doorway on his right about twenty feet away, plainly lettered EXIT. That would be the stairway. Eight flights of stairs down. He grimaced and turned to the left, strode down the hall and around the corner to the bank of passenger elevators.
    The car was empty when it stopped for him. It went down to the lobby without stopping and he stepped out into the large, brightly-lighted room still busy with the coming and going of guests even at this late hour.
    Shayne moved among them and made a careful circuit of the room, glancing casually at the face of every man he encountered who was standing or sitting alone, and worked his way around to the entrance to the cocktail lounge without seeing a familiar countenance.
    The bar stools were half-filled and most of the small tables were occupied, with two white-coated waiters serving drinks, and Shayne moved slowly toward the unoccupied portion of the bar, blinking his eyes to accustom them to the dim light in such strong contrast to the lobby.
    One man sat alone at the extreme end of the bar nursing a tall glass of beer. There were at least a dozen empty stools between him and the next customer, and Shayne paused only a moment before moving over and sliding onto the stool beside him.
    He was a stocky man with regular, good-natured features, wearing a dark suit, white shirt and black bow-tie. He glanced aside curiously as the rangy redhead sat beside him, and a smile spread over his big face and he said heartily, “Mike Shayne, himself. Buy you a drink?”
    He lifted a finger to beckon the bartender before Shayne could reply, and told him genially, “Set out a bottle of cognac for my friend, Jack. It’s on the house. What are you drinking these days, Mike? Is it still Martel?”
    “Martel is fine,” Shayne agreed. “Cordon Bleu, if it’s handy.”
    “Well, now,” said John Russco, pretending to hesitate and be taken aback. “I did say it was on the house, but that stuff runs into money. Okay, Jack,” he ended resignedly to the waiting bartender. “Nothing is too good for Mike Shayne.”
    “Call it a bribe, John,” Shayne told him in a low voice. “I may be just about to do you and the hotel a hell of a big favor.”
    “Like what?” Russco’s voice matched his so that their words couldn’t be heard more than three stools away.
    Shayne waited until an open bottle of Cordon Bleu and a pot-bellied brandy snifter stood in front of him and the bartender had gone back to his other customers. He poured the glass half-full and held it between his two big hands for a moment, and then said, “Like maybe you’re careless about leaving corpses scattered around in your hotel rooms. Bad publicity.” He lifted the glass and drank deeply. “One less for the cops to find wouldn’t hurt, I guess?”
    “God, no,” the security officer breathed fervently. “You mean to say we got that kind of trouble?”
    “The less you know about it the better it’ll be all the way around. Let’s keep this discussion purely hypothetical, huh?”
    “You bet, Mike. Hypothetical as hell.”
    “On that basis,” said Shayne, “and knowing your way around the joint as you do, how would you go about getting a body down from one of the upper floors and away from the hotel without any fuss or muss?”
    “Simple enough,” John Russco told him. “There’s a service elevator that’s hardly ever used this time of night. It goes down to the basement, mostly for refuse removal, into an empty room with a door opening directly out into the alley. Park a car just outside…” He paused, watching Shayne expectantly.
    Shayne nodded, drinking again. “Sounds good. Show me, huh?”
    “You bet. Want a little more of that melted gold out of the bottle first? We’re picking up the tab,” he reminded him generously.
    Shayne shook his head and drained the snifter. “Another time, John. Right now, let’s explore the basement.”
    They both slid off their stools and Russco led the way back through the lounge and past the rest rooms to a corridor with a closed wooden door at the end. He opened it with a key and pushed a wall switch to light a concrete stairway leading down. The big hotel boiler-room was at the bottom of the stairway, steamy and warm, with overhead pipes leading in all directions. Russco led the way past hissing valves to a narrow, white-painted hallway and down it past closed doors on both sides to a small square room lined with empty refuse cans.
    He turned on the overhead light and indicated a small self-service elevator with sliding doors standing open. “This goes all the way up, Mike. Just push the button for any floor you want. What number did you say it was?”
    “I didn’t say. We’re keeping this hypothetical,” Shayne reminded him with a grin. “This the door to the alley?” He nodded to a closed door across from the elevator.
    “Yeh.” John Russco went to the door and pulled it open, showing four brick stairs leading up to ground level. “It automatically locks behind you,” he warned as he went out into the warm, Miami night air.
    Shayne followed him, leaving the door ajar. There was a narrow alley with a two-story building on the other side of it. There was a street light some sixty feet away, and Russco pointed to it. “That’s the street at the back of the hotel. None of the stores are open there at this time of night. A car driving out of the alley that way wouldn’t be noticed.”
    “Unless a cop happened to be cruising by,” Shayne grunted.
    “That’s right. But you could park a car right here in the dark and be pretty safe.”
    Shayne nodded and agreed, “It looks good, John.” He went back down the stairs and across to the open elevator and stepped inside. “How does this thing operate?”
    “Just like any self-service elevator.” Russco followed him in and pointed to the bank of buttons.
    “They’re numbered for each floor. And see this one marked HOLD. See, it’s pushed in now. That holds the cage at any floor with the doors open until someone steps inside and presses another button. Otherwise the doors will close behind you and it can be taken away by anyone pushing a button on any floor. Not likely this time of night, but don’t forget the HOLD button if you want it to stay in one place. As soon as you get inside and push another button no one can stop you from where you want to go.”
    “All right.” Shayne stepped out and got the dead man’s parking stub from his pocket. He held it out to the hotel dick with a grin. “Here’s your part in this hypothetical maneuver. Get this car out of your parking lot. You can do it easier than I… and no questions asked. Drive it around here in the alley and leave it outside the door with the lights off. Unlock and open the trunk and leave the keys in the ignition. Now. How much likelihood that someone will drop in here and be in the way if I should come down in the elevator with a hypothetical corpse?”
    “Almost none.” Russco accepted the ticket with a frown. “However, if you want I can hang around and send anyone packing if they do happen to show.”
    Shayne said, “Thanks.” He looked at his watch. “How long to get the car set outside?”
    “Ten minutes.” Russco looked at his watch.
    “Get going then. If I’m not back in fifteen minutes, drive the car down the street and park it some place where it won’t be noticed until morning. Then get back and forget you saw me tonight.”
    “All right, Mike.” Russco started to say something else, but checked himself and headed back for the boiler-room with a wave of his hand.
    He was disappearing from view when Shayne remembered the pair of stockings in his pocket. He called, “Wait, John,” and went toward him.
    Russco turned back and Shayne said, “You don’t happen to have a pair of gloves you can put your hands on quick?”
    “Gloves? Christ, no.”
    “That car you’re going to pick up,” explained the redhead. “You and I’ll have fewer questions to answer if our fingerprints aren’t found on it when it’s picked up tomorrow. Here. Try these on for size.” He pulled the cellophaned stockings from his pocket and held them out to the hotel detective.
    Russco took them dubiously. “Am I stealing a car, too?”
    “Just giving it back to the owner,” Shayne told him with a grin. “Slide your mitts into these before you get into it. And keep them handy for me to put on when I meet you down here later.”
    Russco took them with a nod of understanding and turned away again.
    Shayne watched him go out of sight, then turned back and got into the elevator and pressed the button numbered 8. The doors slid shut silently and the cage began to move upward. When it stopped at the eighth floor and the doors opened, Shayne carefully pushed the HOLD button, and checked to see that it stayed down.
    Then he stepped out into the wide corridor and looked at the room number across from him to orient himself. It was 804. By the grace of God and with an assist from the Shayne luck, the room he sought was only three doors down the hall. He knocked twice and waited a moment, and then three times.
    The door opened instantly. He grinned reassuringly as he stepped past her, and asked, “Has your daughter phoned?”
    “No. I’m getting scared, Mike. She should have before this. Do you suppose…?”
    “I suspect she’s holed up somewhere trying to get up her nerve to lift the telephone receiver and call this number. Remember… she hasn’t the faintest idea whether you or the police will answer the phone. Look,” he said firmly, taking her by both arms and looking into her frightened face. “Stop worrying. Everything is going to be okay. All you have to do is be here when she calls. Then tell her to come on back… and have a damned good story made up and ready to tell her to explain who Al Donlin was and why he came here looking for you tonight. Do you understand?” He gave her a little shake to emphasize his words.
    Tears swam into her eyes. “Oh, Mike,” she breathed. “You are going to…?”
    “I’m going to give a girl a break on the eve of her wedding day,” he told her lightly. He released her arms and stepped back, glancing at his watch. “I’ll have to take a blanket or something to roll him up in.”
    She followed him to the door of the bedroom, asking shakily, “Is there anything I can do… to help?”
    “I don’t think so.” He stood inside the door looking down at the corpse. “Can that pistol be traced to you… or your daughter?”
    “No. I’m positive it can’t.” She laughed nervously. “Actually, I got it from an actor who had lifted it off the set of a movie… one of the prop guns.”
    Shayne muttered, “There might be fingerprints,” and reached down to pick it up and rub it between his big palms much as she had done an hour previously. Then he slid it into the man’s coat pocket and said, “Let the police try to figure out why he’s carrying the gun that killed him.” He straightened up and glanced around the room. “I wonder if there’s an extra blanket or anything.”
    She hurried past him toward the closet door, murmuring, “There often is… on a shelf.” She opened the door and stood on tiptoes, then turned back with a folded blanket in her arms. “It has the name of the hotel on it.”
    “Can’t be helped. I won’t leave him wrapped up in it.” He took the blanket from her, shook it out so it was folded double, and carefully spread it across the body, covering it from head to toe. Then he knelt down and rolled the man over carefully so that he was enclosed like a cocoon in the blanket. The body was beginning to stiffen with rigor mortis, so it was quite easy to manipulate.
    Shayne stood up and checked his watch. It was exactly nine minutes since he had parted with John Russco in the hotel basement. “Time to get this show on the road,” he said casually and turned to her where she stood in the doorway watching him with fear-distended eyes.
    “There’s nothing for you to worry about,” he told her quietly. “Just stay here and drink the rest of that Scotch and wait for Vicky to telephone you. Tell her to check out of wherever she is and come back here and pretend none of this happened. Go on about your normal routine. The wedding will be tomorrow. Act exactly as you would have acted if this hadn’t happened. You may read in the paper about an unidentified body being found in Miami. I hope he can’t be traced here. Even if the police come knocking at your door asking questions… you just don’t know the answers. There’s not even a drop of blood here on the rug where he’s lain. Deny everything. Don’t identify him even if they should force you to go to the morgue to look at him.
    “Good luck to you, Carla. And good luck to Vicky. I hope she has a long and happy marriage. Now… stand out of the way and open your door for me.”
    She stood there on the threshold of the sitting room gazing at him. “Will you be in touch with me, Mike? Will I see you again?”
    “Better not. Though I’d like to… under different circumstances.” He tossed her a wide smile. “In Hollywood, maybe. Next month… or next year? If you happen to run into Brett out there… tell him I’m still holding up my end in Miami… but this is one case I don’t think he’d better write up in a book.”
    He turned away from her, leaned over and picked up the blanket-wrapped bundle of stiffening flesh in his arms and turned back to the sitting room.
    She was waiting by the outside door with her hand on the knob. She smiled faintly as he approached, opened the door and leaned out to look up and down the hallway. Then she drew back and nodded reassuringly to indicate that the coast was clear, and drew to one side to let him pass through with his gruesome burden.
    He stepped out into the wide, well-lighted corridor and she silently drew the door shut behind him. He turned in the direction in which he had left the open elevator waiting for him, and walked swiftly toward it, praying that no late-comers would suddenly turn up around the corner.
    He reached the door numbered 804 and gazed blankly at the closed doors of the service elevator across from it. He had left them standing open, with the HOLD button pressed down to hold the cage at that floor.
    Now it was gone.

6

    He stood there in the lighted hallway awkwardly holding the blanketed burden of stiffening flesh in his arms, staring stupidly at the closed doors of the service elevator. It couldn’t be gone. He had pushed the right button to hold it, just as Russco had showed him.
    There was no indicator above the closed doors to show where the cage was now. There was an electric button in the frame beside the doors and he pushed it hard in the hope that it might, somehow, open the doors and show the cage waiting. But the doors remained obstinately closed and there was no sound to indicate that pressing the button had any effect on the mechanism at all.
    He couldn’t just stand there with a dead man in his arms waiting. Someone might turn up at any moment. And time was running out on him. He’d told Russco fifteen minutes.
    He’d better get the corpse back inside 810. Then he might get down in time to catch Russco… find out what had gone wrong with the elevator… start out all over again.
    He turned back with his burden, but was halted by the sound of voices just around the corner toward the regular elevators.
    People were coming. There was no time to make it to 810 unobserved. He whirled and deposited the corpse on the floor against the wall and beside the elevator door. Then he straightened and wiped sweat from his face, moved to place himself in front of the dead man and conceal him from view as best he could, just as a young couple came around the corner and started toward him.
    They were still about forty feet away, and he fumbled for a cigarette in his shirt pocket while he watched their somewhat erratic progress with narrowed eyes.
    They were both apparently quite tipsy. The dinner-jacketed young man had his arm tightly about the girl’s slender waist and she had her face pressed against his shoulder and was giggling loudly while he half-supported her with his head bent over her blonde head.
    Shayne made himself lean nonchalantly back with his shoulder blades against the wall while he lighted his cigarette and waited tensely for them to notice him and start wondering what he was doing there with the queer bundle on the floor behind him.
    His luck held.
    They stopped at a room three doors down the corridor and the young man fumbled to get a key in the lock, got the door open and half-carried the girl inside. The door closed behind them and neither had so much as glanced in his direction.
    At that precise instant there was a whirring sound and a couple of metallic clicks behind the elevator doors and they slid open in front of him.
    A little gray-haired man almost fell out of the elevator. He was very drunk and his tie was askew and a pair of pince-nez dangled from his neck on a black ribbon and he blinked near-sightedly as he fumbled for his glasses, and demanded querulously, “Whas-a-matter here. Funny kin’ elevator f’r a swanky joint like this. Rode me righ’ down th’ cellar, thas what. Don’ wan’ cellar. Wan’ th’ lobby.”
    Shayne caught his arm and dragged him out into the corridor, turning him roughly so he faced away from the dead man. “You got the wrong elevator,” he explained cheerfully. “Down this way.” Half-carrying and half-pushing the little man, he rushed him down the carpeted hall and around the corner to the bank of guest elevators. He propped him against the wall and pushed the DOWN button, then trotted back around the corner hoping to God the empty cage would still be waiting for him this time.
    It was. He scooped up the body and dragged it inside, pushed the lower button with a B above it, and heaved a long, heart-felt sigh of relief as the doors closed and they started down. He looked at his watch and saw that almost seventeen minutes had elapsed since he had parted with Russco.
    When the cage stopped and the doors opened he saw John standing across from him with his hand on the doorknob frowning down at his watch. He looked up and said, “I’d just about given you up, Mike.”
    “Some drunk stole my elevator and took a free ride,” Shayne grated. “Car outside?”
    “Ready and waiting.” Russco opened the door and pretended to avert his face so he wouldn’t see what Shayne was carrying as the redhead went past him.
    Light from the doorway illuminated a late-model Ford standing outside with lights out, trunk standing open and motor throbbing softly.
    Shayne went up the short flight of stairs fast, around the back of the car where he unceremoniously dumped the body inside the trunk.
    Then he hurried back to Russco, hand extended. “Got those stockings? How’d they fit?”
    “Fine.” Russco pressed the wadded-up nylons into his hand. “First time I ever had my hands inside a lady’s hose.”
    Shayne grunted sourly and turned back to the driver’s side, straightening the stockings out and ramming his big hands down inside the flared tops.
    Russco shut the door at the foot of the stairs as he got behind the steering wheel, and the only light in the alley was that from the street light in front of him.
    He moved the lever to Drive, and the car went forward smoothly. He left the lights off and slowed cautiously as he approached the sidewalk, hesitated there to let one car go past and determine there were no others immediately behind it, then swung out into the street and flipped on the lights as he straightened out westward. So far as he could see there was no one about to observe the maneuver.
    It was a one-way street and there was little traffic at this past-midnight hour. He drove at moderate speed, getting the feel of the car, and began planning where he would go and how he would dispose of the body and the automobile. It would be best to separate the two, he thought. Get the body out of the trunk and unwrapped from the hotel blanket and, without attempting to conceal it, leave it some place where it would normally be discovered the next morning. Then drive the car a good distance away and leave it parked in some empty parking lot where it might easily remain for several days before attracting attention. This would tend to delay identification of Al Donlin and to obscure the trail leading back to Suite 810 of the Encanto Hotel.
    Actually, Michael Shayne had very few qualms about what he was doing. He felt cheerful and relaxed as he drove along. With a sort of warm glow inside him. Like a Boy Scout, by God, conscious of doing his good deed for the day.
    He wondered if he couldn’t wangle an invitation to the wedding that was scheduled for that afternoon. It would be fun to take Lucy Hamilton without telling her why he was interested or that he felt a sort of proprietary interest in the ceremony. She would wonder what on earth had gotten into him, but would be pleased to go along.
    He continued driving west for several blocks before turning north and getting into a more sparsely settled section of the city where it would be easier to dispose of the corpse. He was approaching a north and south avenue that had a blinking yellow light at the intersection, and he slowed circumspectly when he saw a car coming from the right rather fast. True, that driver had a blinking red light which meant that he was required to come to a full stop before entering the crossing, but Shayne had no intention of insisting on the right-of-way tonight… not with the cargo he was carrying.
    He was going less than ten miles an hour and ready to put on the brakes when the other car squealed to a stop with its front wheels just across the white line. Shayne stepped on the gas and went on across.
    He was almost clear of the intersection when the other car leaped forward without warning and there was a rending crash in the stillness of the night as the other’s right front fender smashed into the right rear bumper of the slowly moving Ford.
    The impact threw Shayne against the steering wheel and slewed the Ford around, ramming the front end up against the curb with the bumper solidly against a palm tree.
    The other car came to a halt in the street with its rear end blocking the Ford’s left rear, and Shayne cut off the ignition, cursing angrily while he hoped to God the Ford hadn’t blown a tire.
    Because that would really do it. If he had to open up the trunk here on the street to get out the spare…
    He jerked the door open and got out, conscious of the ludicrous appearance of the stockings pulled over his hands, stripped them off and thrust them into his pocket as he made a fast circuit around the front of the car and then to the rear, kicking all four tires to assure himself they weren’t harmed.
    His right rear bumper was dented, but that was all the damage the Ford had sustained. The other car was a Pontiac, and had the front fender crushed in against the wheel, and it would have to be moved forward before Shayne could possibly back away from the palm tree and get the hell away from there… which was the one thing he wanted to do at that moment.
    The front door of the other car slammed shut as he stood there behind the two cars, fighting back his anger at the other driver’s stupidity and reminding himself to remain calm and take it easy and try to get the cars separated as fast as possible.
    A burly man came storming belligerently around the Pontiac, shouting, “Whyn’t you watch where you’re going, God-damnit? Running right in front of me like that?”
    He stopped spraddle-legged in front of Shayne and thrust a blunt jaw aggressively up into the redhead’s face, and Shayne got a strong smell of liquor on his breath.
    He stepped backward a pace and said calmly. “You had a flashing red light. It was up to you to stop.”
    “I did stop, b’God. Don’t you try’n say I didn’t. I come to a full stop and you pulled right in front of me. You wanta make sumpin of it?” His fists were doubled and he bared his teeth in the faint moonlight.
    Shayne took another wary step backward. “No. All I want is to move your car forward so I can get out. No use sticking around until some cops show up and keep us here all night. I’ve got insurance. Let the insurance companies fight it out. Help me give your car a little shove, huh?”
    He circled around the man to try and push the Pontiac forward.
    “Oh, no, you don’t! Don’t put your hand on my car.” The man shoved forward against him and put his hand against Shayne’s chest. “We’ll stay right here and settle it. You’re not drivin’ away from here…”
    Shayne sighed and stepped back one pace. This wasn’t the time nor place for an argument with a drunken fool. Poised on the balls of his feet, he swung his right fist in a looping uppercut that caught the blunt jaw of the man as he thrust it forward aggressively again.
    With all of Shayne’s weight behind the blow, he went down like an axed ox.
    Shayne left him lying there and hurried forward to lean inside the Pontiac and see that the brake was off and it was in neutral. Then he trotted back to try and shove the car forward, got his shoulder down against the rear end and braced himself for a shove when the one thing he had hoped to avoid happened.
    A police radio car came cruising leisurely toward the scene of the accident, red light gleaming and bright spotlight focusing on the two cars.
    He straightened up and fought back an impulse to run from the scene… leave the Ford standing there with the corpse locked in the trunk.
    But it was too late for that. There was no place of concealment to run to. The spotlight was on him and he knew the officers would not hesitate to start shooting if they saw a man running away in the night leaving another one lying on the ground behind him.
    He’d have to stay and bluff it out. If he was lucky, at least one of the policemen in the cruiser would be a member of the force who knew him and would take his word for what had happened.
    He turned and walked slowly toward them as the police car pulled to a stop.

7

    At that point Michael Shayne’s luck ran out. He didn’t recognize either one of the policemen in the cruiser. The one who got out first was tall and lanky and slightly stooped, with the characteristic lantern jaw and sallow complexion of those back country Georgia Crackers who swarmed into Miami in the Thirties and infested the police force. Pin a badge on one of them, and strap a big revolver on his hip, and he became immediately transformed from a meek and inoffensive man who had been kicked around by life into a blustering loudmouth who asserted his authority by kicking everyone else around.
    He walked forward now, glaring officiously at the two cars and at Shayne standing in the spotlight, and demanded in a nasal whine, “What’s goin’ on here, huh? Only two cars in miles of here and you-uns have to crack each other up, huh?”
    Shayne shrugged and didn’t bother to reply. He turned hopefully to the driver as he got out, and saw a burly, low-browed man wearing the uniform of a police officer and looking as though he carried a permanent chip on each shoulder. He scowled as he came around into the headlights, looked past Shayne at the body of the other driver lying on the ground and demanded, “He hurt bad?”
    “He just needs to sleep it off,” Shayne said lightly.
    “Drunk?” The burly man knelt down beside him.
    “That’s his Pontiac,” Shayne said. “You can see for yourself that he ran the red light and slammed into my rear end.”
    “Nobody’s ast you to say how it happened,” the other cop broke in. “That’s for us to figure out. Got a driver’s license?”
    Shayne got out his wallet, flipped it open at his driver’s license in a celluloid compartment and extended it wordlessly.
    The cop got up from beside the driver and asked with interest, “What’d you hit him with?”
    Shayne said, “He came staggering at me looking for a fight and I gave him a shove. Look, Officer,” he went on persuasively. “Do we have to make a big thing out of this? You can see there’s no real damage done. I’m fully insured. If we could move his car about a foot, I could back my Ford out and get going. How about it?”
    The big cop looked him up and down coldly. “What’s your hurry, Buster? We got to make out a report on this. His license okay, Ernie?” he called to his partner who had moved back with Shayne’s wallet to stand under the spotlight where he was laboriously writing down the number, name and address in a notebook.
    “Looks okay,” Ernie replied reluctantly, as though the admission disappointed him. “Name of Michael Shayne, huh? Hey, Barkus. Ain’t that the tinhorn private dick that’s allus gettin’ writ up in the papers?”
    “Yeah,” said Barkus slowly. “You’re Mike Shayne, huh? Whyn’t you say so in the first place?”
    “No one asked me,” Shayne told him. “Now that you’ve got it straight, how about dropping the whole thing?”
    “Not so dang fast! Being a private eye don’t rate you no special favors… not with the law in Miami, it don’t.”
    “I’m not asking for special favors.” With a great effort Shayne held onto his rapidly thinning patience. “I’m a citizen. I live here the year around. I’m not going to run away, for Christ’s sake. Do we have to stand here all night?”
    “We ain’t in no hurry,” Barkus said happily. “Are we, Ernie? Check out his car registration.” Two other cars had come along the street and pulled up curiously at the scene, and he moved out to wave them on and clear the intersection.
    Shayne hesitated while Ernie went around to the Ford and opened the front door. He started to explain that it wasn’t his car. That he’d borrowed it for the evening, but realized he didn’t know what name it was registered in, and decided to wait for the questions to be asked him.
    He heard a grunt and movement behind him and turned to see the Pontiac driver pushing himself up into a sitting position, cautiously feeling his jaw. Barkus came back and asked with interest, “You feel all right, feller?”
    “Bastard hit me,” the man said thickly. “When I wasn’t looking. Brass knucks, feels like.”
    “Oh, he’s a real tough hombre,” Barkus said happily, leaning down to take the man’s arm and help him to stand. “He carries a private detective’s license that he reckons gives him the right to go around beatin’ people up.”
    Shayne set his teeth together hard and turned his back on the two of them. Ernie was coming back from the Ford with a registration card in his hand, and he demanded suspiciously, “Where’d you get that car?”
    Before Shayne could reply, Barkus called out from behind him, “You know, Ernie? We got a li’l ole case of assault and battery here. This feller wants to swear out a warrant.”
    “Do tell. An’ maybe a li’l ole case of false registration on top of that. Whyn’t you say where you got your hands on that Ford, Mister?” Ernie demanded of Shayne.
    “Because you didn’t give me a chance.” Shayne’s voice was thick with barely suppressed anger. “I borrowed it. From a friend of mine.”
    “Name of Duclos, huh? George Duclos?” Ernie peered down at the card in his hand.
    “That’s right. Mine conked out and I was in a hurry to get some place. I’m still in a hurry,” he added. “Let’s cut out the clowning and get this over with. Call into headquarters, for Christ’s sake, and talk to your lieutenant on the traffic squad. Bemish. He’s a good friend of mine.”
    “I reckon I’ll call in all right, but I won’t be talking to Lieutenant Bemish,” Ernie told him with relish. “On account he’s on sick leave.”
    “Then call Chief Gentry,” grated Shayne. “He’ll vouch for me.”
    “Boy, you sure do toss them important names around,” said Ernie admiringly. He turned his head to spit down on the ground. “Scares hell out of just a plain cop like me. Hey, Barkus? You reckon we had oughtta apologize to Mister Shayne an’ shine his shoes for him?”
    “Get on the radio and call in,” grunted Barkus. “Have ’em call the owner of that car to come to headquarters and pick it up. We’ll be bookin’ Shayne, I reckon. Mr. Seymour, here, is ready to sign a complaint.”
    Shayne turned back with a sigh as Ernie went to the radio car. The owner of the Pontiac had lighted a cigar and was puffing on it furiously, leaning against the fender of his car. Shayne said placatingly, “I’m sorry this happened… Mr. Seymour, is it? It was purely a misunderstanding. I apologize, and I’ll pay for the damage to your car even though I don’t think it was legally my fault. Could anything be fairer than that? Let’s shake on it?” He took a step forward and held out his hand.
    “Damn well right you’ll pay for the damage,” muttered Seymour thickly. “Pulled right in front of me and then ’saulted me without pro…” He hiccoughed. “… provocation,” he finished. He folded his arms across his thick chest and pointedly disregarded Shayne’s outstretched hand.
    Shayne turned to Barkus and said to him in a furious undertone, “For God’s sake, Officer. Hasn’t this farce gone far enough? He hasn’t got a leg to stand on in court. He had the red light. I was going through the intersection about ten miles an hour when he hit my rear end. Then he came rushing around spoiling for a fight and threatened me. Goddamn it, you know I won’t stay at headquarters for ten minutes if you’re silly enough to take me in on a trumped-up charge like this. You must know Will Gentry and I have been friends for more years than you’ve been on the Force. You’re not going to get a medal for dragging me in.”
    “I reckon I’m not lookin’ for any medals,” Barkus told him coldly. “It’s my sworn duty to make an arrest if a citizen swears out a complaint.”
    Shayne drew in a deep breath, held it a long moment, and then exhaled slowly. He moved to Barkus’s side and took his arm and moved him away a few feet. In a low voice, he said, “I’m working on a hell of an important case and I can’t afford to go in to headquarters and straighten this up right now. I’ll come in in the morning, Goddamn it. Let me post a personal bond and get the hell away from here right now. How much?” In his hands he held the wallet which Ernie had given back to him after checking his license. He opened the bill-fold and began taking out bills, keeping his back to Seymour.
    “You know the bond won’t be more than fifty dollars if you drag me in,” he went on persuasively. “Make it a hundred… two hundred… to guarantee I’ll show up in the morning to answer any charges that are laid against me.”
    He held out a sheaf of twenty-dollar bills and the policeman’s big hand closed over them greedily. He crumpled them up into a wad and called over to his partner who was in the front seat of the cruiser operating the radio.
    “We got another charge against him, Ernie. A real good one this time. Attempting to bribe an officer. I got the evidence right here, by God.”
    “How much?” Ernie called back with interest.
    “Two hundred bucks.”
    “Cheap bastard deserves to be run in.” Ernie got out of the police car and approached them with a grin on his long-jawed face. “Headquarters says come on in. They’re callin’ Mr. Duclos to come down an’ pick up his Ford. Come on, you.” He grabbed Shayne officiously by the arm and turned him about. “I’ll ride in with you and my partner’ll follow.”
    Shayne hesitated and held back, looking about him wildly. The last thing in God’s world he wanted was to drive that Ford in to headquarters. He wasn’t worried about what would happen to him after he got there. He was on close personal terms with most of the higher-ranking officers of the Miami police force, and he knew he wouldn’t be held for more than a brief period no matter what fantastic charges these two stupid cops placed against him.
    But he was very much concerned about the Ford. He had… foolishly, he now realized… stated that it had been loaned to him by the owner… someone, apparently named George Duclos. Perhaps that was the name Al Donlin was using in Miami. Or it might be some friend of Al’s who had loaned him the car for the evening.
    No matter how it worked out, he was very definitely losing control of the Ford… with a corpse locked up in the trunk.
    Barkus had walked around in front of the Pontiac with Seymour and was helping him pull the crumpled fender away from the wheel so the car could be driven without damaging the tire. He was alone with Ernie for a moment, and was tempted to grab the police revolver from the man’s holster, slam him across the head with it and try his luck at making a get-away.
    But even if he succeeded, that wouldn’t change anything in the long run. They knew who he was. It was on the record that he had been driving the Ford when they took possession of it. The instant the body was discovered in the trunk, he would be held responsible.
    Better go along submissively, he decided, and simply hope for some sort of break. He slumped his shoulders and said in a defeated voice, “Okay, Ernie. Whatever you say. If you end up getting your ass kicked off the Force for this… don’t blame me.”
    “I’ll take my chances on that.” Ernie led him toward the Ford, wheezing happily, and shoved him roughly inside under the steering wheel. He slammed the door shut and leaned both elbows on it and told Shayne with a sadistic grin that showed yellow front teeth:
    “You know what I’m plumb hopin’, Mister? That you’ll try to make a run for it while I go around to get in on t’other side of you. I’d plain love to gut-shoot hell out of you… long as it was in the line of duty.”
    He hooked both thumbs in his pistol belt and strolled around the back of the car, humming a little tune happily. Shayne sat stiffly behind the wheel and waited for him to get in. The Pontiac moved out of the way behind him, turned into the one-way westbound street and moved away.
    Shayne started the motor and backed away from the curb, then followed the Pontiac toward the police station. The police car moved into line behind him and remained less than a hundred feet in the rear.
    Shayne didn’t look at Ernie and didn’t speak until he put the Ford into a space in the parking lot at headquarters. The police car moved in beside him as he turned off the ignition and lights, and Barkus leaned out to inform Ernie happily:
    “You know what, Buddy-boy? I reckon we done hit the jackpot this here time. Just come over my radio that Ford you’re ridin’ in is a stolen car.”

8

    Shayne’s belly muscles constricted when he heard the report. This just wasn’t his night, by God. How the hell could he have guessed that Al Donlin had stolen the car he parked at the Encanto Hotel? If he’d known it couldn’t be traced to the dead man it would have been far better to have left it in the hotel parking lot and used his own car for transporting the body.
    But it was much too late for that sort of second-guessing. The car was right here at police headquarters and all anyone had to do was to decide to check inside the trunk. He shuddered and got out from under the wheel, waited docilely for Ernie to come around and lead him triumphantly inside the station.
    He’d have to play it very slow and cool. The most important thing was to get that Ford away from headquarters as fast as possible. And then get himself away. He’d already told one foolish lie about its having been loaned to him by the owner. He’d have to change that fast, and he began racking his brain for a plausible story that would explain his possession of a stolen car on the streets of Miami after midnight.
    After a bit of low-voiced conversation on the other side of the car, Ernie and Barkus parted and the heavier cop strode into the police station by a side door and Ernie came around to him with handcuffs dangling from his fist. “Jest hold out your hands an’ we’ll try these here bracelets on for fit,” he said happily. “My gosh, I jest re’lized we ain’t even shook you down yet.”
    “I’m not carrying anything,” Shayne told him. “You don’t need cuffs, for Christ’s sake. I want to get inside and get this over as much as you do.”
    “Put ’em on, Mister.” Ernie made his nasal voice harsh and uncompromising. He snapped first one steel cuff and then the other over Shayne’s wrists and gave him a little shove toward the door through which his partner had disappeared.
    Shayne walked ahead of him, inwardly seething but holding his head high. He supposed the damned fool was walking along behind covering him with a drawn gun. It was going to be a real triumphant entry for Ernie.
    A short corridor led into a large brightly lighted room with empty chairs lined around the walls and the Booking Desk at one side presided over by an elderly sergeant whom Shayne knew slightly. Barkus was leaning on the desk in front of him talking volubly. Two detectives and a young reporter from the Miami News covering the late police shift were in a group near Barkus and listening to him with interest. The reporter hurried toward Shayne, his eyes bugging with excitement at sight of the manacles, and he whipped a wad of copy paper from his coat pocket.
    “Are you really Michael Shayne? How about a statement, Mr. Shayne?”
    Shayne said, “Get Tim Rourke down here fast. I’ll give him a statement. Call him, damn it!” he added sharply, and the reporter sighed and nodded reluctantly, fully aware of the close friendship that existed between the detective and the News’ top reporter.
    Shayne moved on up to the desk, but Barkus turned and blocked his way, saying, “That feller Seymour ain’t showed up yet. You wait in here for a little minute.” He took Shayne’s arm and hustled him past the desk toward an open door on the right where he shoved the handcuffed redhead into a small room containing four straight chairs and nothing else. He pulled the door shut and Shayne was left alone.
    He was left alone in the small room with his thoughts for fifteen or twenty minutes. They weren’t pleasant thoughts. He kept visualizing the owner of the Ford arriving to pick up his stolen car and unlocking the trunk to check the spare. How the hell was Shayne going to explain that? A dozen or more improbable stories raced through his mind, but none of them made much sense even to him.
    When the door opened again three men walked into the room. In the lead was Detective-Sergeant Loomis whom Shayne knew casually. He was a sternfaced, middle-aged man in plain clothes, completely bald, with shrewd blue eyes and a reputation for stubborn honesty.
    Ernie was behind him, looking a trifle subdued now, and not nearly so pleased or sure of himself. Behind the two policemen was a squat, swarthy man with a bristling black mustache. He looked nervous and uneasy, as though he would have very much preferred to be home in bed instead of here at police headquarters.
    The sergeant nodded to Shayne without speaking, and turned his head to tell Ernie mildly, “You can unlock the cuffs now. I don’t think Shayne is going to make a break for it.”
    “Like I said, I wasn’t takin’ no chances, Sarge.” Ernie avoided Shayne’s eyes while he unlocked the handcuffs. “All these years I bin hearin’ stories how tough this guy is.”
    “All right.” The sergeant dismissed him with a jerk of his head toward the door. “You and Barkus get back on patrol.” When the door closed behind the traffic policeman, Loomis asked the swarthy man, “Have you ever seen this man before, Mr. Duclos?”
    “Never in my life. All I know is them cops say he stole my car. Standing right out in front of my house. By golly, it’s a pretty pass when detectives start stealing cars right on the city streets.”
    “A private detective, Mr. Duclos. All right. We’ve got your statement and you’ve got your car. No real harm done. We’ll call on you if anything else comes up. You may as well go home now.”
    “What I want to know is… does he get away with it? Stealing my car! If that’s not a crime…”
    “We’ll take care of that.” Sergeant Loomis turned him firmly toward the door and patted him on the shoulder. Then he turned back to the redhead and studied him a moment, the very faintest suggestion of a smile quirking one corner of his mouth. “What in hell is this all about, Shamus?”
    “Naturally, I didn’t know the damned car was stolen,” Shayne told him fervently. He spread out his hands. “I just got conned, that’s all. I was driving up Third Street about twelve o’clock when my car sputtered and quit on me. I was late for an appointment as it was…” He looked at his watch ruefully. “And I’m a hell of a lot later right now. So I went into a bar there… East of Miami Avenue. I was going to call a cab, but a guy was sitting there at the end of the bar and he called me by name. He was pretty tight and weaving on the stool. ‘Hey, Mike. Howsa boy?’ or something like that. I know him, Sarge. Damn it. I know I’ve run into him somewhere. Some kind of cheap chiseler, but I’ll be damned if I can place his name.” He screwed up his face in intense concentration, then shook his head dismally. “I’ve been trying to remember it ever since I found out it was a stolen car. Right then it didn’t seem to matter. I just told him my car had conked out and I had to call a taxi and he pulled out some keys and said why didn’t I borrow his Ford parked right outside.
    “Who in hell would have thought the guy was offering me a hot car like that? Maybe he was just drunk enough to think it was funny. How the hell do I know what he thought? I was in a hurry and I just wasn’t looking any gift horse in the mouth. So I grabbed the keys and went out, thinking I’d remember his name in the morning and get it back to him. I’ll certainly tell you his name when I do remember it.”
    “You do that,” said Loomis drily. “You don’t expect me to believe that story, do you?”
    “Would you rather believe I deliberately stole a car parked in front of somebody’s house?” demanded Shayne hotly.
    “No. I don’t believe that either. All right. So you had a crack-up and cold-cocked the man who drove into you?”
    “He asked for it,” Shayne defended himself. “If he’s got the guts to come in and make a charge against me, I’ll make him wish he hadn’t.”
    “It appears that Mr. Seymour had second thoughts about that. He hasn’t showed up yet. So that leaves a little matter of attempted bribery, Shayne.”
    “That was stupid,” Shayne told him flatly. “Even if I didn’t intend it as a bribe. I should have realized it could be so misconstrued, but all I wanted was for that cop to put it up as a bond for my appearance tomorrow morning. I was worried about being late for my appointment, and those two goons were enjoying pushing me around. I should have known better, but… I just wasn’t thinking straight.”
    “Is this your money?” The sergeant put his hand in his pocket and drew out some folded bills. Shayne took them and counted five twenties. He started to protest that there had been ten twenties originally, but he checked himself. This was no time to stir up a fuss about a hundred bucks.
    He said, “I haven’t got the serial numbers, of course. But they were twenties that I gave that cop named Barkus. Look here, Sergeant,” he hurried on persuasively. “Let me call Chief Gentry at home. You tell him what the situation is. I’ve still got to keep that damned appointment somehow.”
    Loomis shook his head. “Why, no. I wouldn’t want to bother the chief this time of night. I know perfectly well what he’d say. So, beat it, Shayne. We know where to reach you. I hope she hasn’t got tired of waiting.”
    Shayne grinned tiredly and appreciatively. “So do I. Thanks, Sergeant.”
    He went out the door fast and was intercepted down the hall by a reporter from the Herald and Timothy Rourke of the News. The Herald man grabbed his arm and said happily, “We’ve been hearing all sorts of stories, Shayne. What’s the lowdown? You got your license jerked?”
    Shayne pulled away and growled at him, “Talk to Sergeant Loomis. You got your heap, Tim?”
    The saturnine reporter nodded with a grin. “Just so you won’t be forced to steal any more transportation tonight. Down this way, Mike.”
    He turned into a corridor that right-angled away from the other, and a moment later they walked out into the night and he indicated his car between two No-Parking signs. Shayne got in and Rourke went around to get under the wheel. He settled himself and muttered wonderingly, “What in the living hell has been going on tonight, Mike? There were all kinds of rumors floating around the station, but I didn’t get any one of them straight. You kill somebody… or what?”
    Shayne sighed and said, “Mostly what, Tim.” He got out a cigarette and lit it, realizing, suddenly, that it felt good not to have handcuffs on his wrists.
    Then he said, “It’s a long story, and we need liquor to wash it down with. Can’t we get the hell away from here? I’ve seen enough cops for one night.”
    “Sure… Mike,” Tim told him soothingly. He started the motor and pulled away from the curb. “Home, James?” he asked cheerfully.
    “Wait a minute. No. Drop me at the Encanto Hotel, Tim. And then forget you did.”
    “You’re not running out on me, Mike? Not without telling me what this is all about?”
    “No. I’ve got to pick my car up at the Encanto. About forgetting it… I just mean if anything comes up later. Look. I’m confused, Tim. I’ve got thinking to do. Save your questions, huh?”
    “Sure,” said Timothy Rourke easily. “Will you be at the Encanto long?”
    “Just long enough to get my car. Then I’ll meet you back at my place.”
    The two men had been close friends for a great many years, and Timothy Rourke knew when it was not the time to ask questions.
    He drove to the Encanto without speaking again, pulled up under the canopy, and said, “I’ll be waiting for you, Mike.”
    “Sure. You’ve got a key. Use it.” Shayne got out and fumbled in his pocket for his parking stub to give to the doorman, and the reporter pulled away into the night.

9

    While Shayne waited at the hotel entrance for his car to be brought around, he glanced inside and saw two house phones just inside the door. He hesitated, scowling uncertainly. Should he call Carla and warn her what had happened? He wondered whether Vicky had checked back with her mother, and whether she had returned safely to the hotel.
    He stepped inside quickly and lifted one of the phones, but replaced it before giving the room number. Why worry Carla at this point? What the hell could he tell her? Simply that he had bungled the job and that her dead husband might turn up anywhere, at any time.
    There would still be the matter of identifying the man, he realized. There was nothing about him at this point to connect him with Carla. Just the blanket that had the name of the hotel on it. But there was nothing to show what room it came from. No, he told himself. Carla and Vicky were safe enough at this point, if they just kept quiet and went on as though nothing had happened.
    If the body were discovered in the trunk of the Ford a certain private detective named Michael Shayne was the only person who could be tied directly to it. Finding the blanket, the police would check the Encanto Hotel, of course, looking for a missing guest who answered the dead man’s description. They wouldn’t find one. It would take days to check every room in the hotel for a missing blanket… if they bothered to go so far.
    There was no reason to worry about Carla and Vicky at this point. He was the only one who had things to worry about. He strolled back outside as his car was driven up by the attendant, gave the lad a half-dollar and got in.
    He turned south on Biscayne Boulevard, drove to Southeast First Street and then west. He found Rourke’s car parked at the curb beside his hotel on the north bank of the Miami River, and he pulled up close behind it and shut off the lights and ignition. He hadn’t formulated any definite plans for the remaining hours of the night, but he was positive that he wouldn’t be going to bed and let matters take their natural course.
    He went in a side door with a stairway leading up that by-passed the lobby, climbed to the second floor and went down the hall to his door which was standing ajar and showing a light inside.
    Timothy Rourke was comfortably relaxed in a deep chair with a bourbon highball in his hand. He had set out a cognac bottle for his host, with an empty four-ounce glass beside it, and a tall glass of ice water for a chaser. His deep-set eyes were hooded, and they glittered with happy curiosity as the redhead strode into the room. He lifted his glass in wordless greeting and sipped from it as Shayne crossed to the table and poured himself a healthy drink. Still standing, he drank it in three swallows, automatically chased it down with a sip of ice water and said feelingly, “By God, I needed that!” He poured more liquor into the glass and then sat down and lit a cigarette.
    “Just about two hours ago,” Rourke reminded him, “you tore yourself away from my scintillating company and refused another drink… which I offered to buy, by God, and swore you were coming straight home and to bed and ten hours sleep. What the devil have you been up to in those two hours?”
    “What did you pick up at headquarters?”
    “Not a whole lot. Just that you’d been arrested driving a stolen car and tried to bribe the two cops to let you go. And that you deliberately ran over some honest citizen who tried to stop you. Nothing really world-shaking for Mike Shayne spending a quiet evening in bed.”
    Shayne grinned mirthlessly and clawed fingers through his hair, “Things do have a way of happening. Tonight it was a friend of Brett Halliday’s in town from Hollywood.”
    “Good looking?” asked Rourke alertly.
    “You know Brett.” Shayne made a gesture. “She had a run-in with a dead man, so who the hell should she call on but Brett’s old friend Mike Shayne?”
    “It figures. Where else would tomorrow’s headlines come from?”
    “This is going to be one hell of a headline,” growled Shayne. “If things don’t break right.” He took another drink and then got up from his chair and began to prowl up and down the room.
    Rourke watched his friend for a moment, then asked, “Are you going to tell me about it?”
    “I’m trying to decide how much to tell you,” Shayne confessed angrily. “It’s going to sound like hell when I put it into plain words. You’re going to sit back in judgment and ask why in hell I let myself get pulled into it. All I had to do was say no, God damn it. All I had to do was turn my back and walk out of the hotel room. Which is what any sensible human being would have done,” he added in a tone of deep disgust.
    “But she was a friend of Brett’s,” Rourke reminded him.
    “Yeh. God protect us from the friends of our friends. All right, Tim. Right now I’m not going to try and explain why I’m in this up to my neck. Take my word for it that it seemed like the least I could do at the time. If we get in a real jam and you’re questioned, the less you know the better it’ll be all around.”
    “What kind of jam are we headed for?” Rourke asked him calmly, but with lively curiosity.
    “We’ve got to steal a car for one thing.”
    “My God! Haven’t you stolen enough cars for one night?”
    “The same car,” Shayne told him. “Did you talk to that man, Duclos, at headquarters?”
    “Owner of the stolen Ford? Yeh. I got the dope from him on his car.”
    “Address and all?”
    “Sure. I’ve got my notes right here. But he’ll be careful after it was stolen once. He won’t leave it parked in front of his house with the keys in it again. What the hell’s so important about that car, Mike?”
    “It’s something I left in it,” Shayne hedged. “We’ve got to get it back before morning.”
    Timothy Rourke stiffened in his chair and put a thin hand up over his eyes. “Oh, no,” he groaned sepulchrally. “Don’t tell me that. Not a dead man, Mike. You didn’t go off and leave a corpse in that stolen car. Locked in the trunk, huh?”
    “Whatever would give you an idea like that?” demanded Shayne, looking at his old friend incredulously and laughing, although not very heartily.
    “Because I know you, damn it. Because I can put two and two together and it always comes out four where Mike Shayne is concerned. There’s this dame who blows into town and has a run-in with a dead man. There’s you who could have said no and turned your back and walked out of her bedroom… but didn’t. That’s two and two… see? And it adds up to a corpse floating around town in a stolen car. Right?”
    “You have the damnedest imagination,” Shayne chuckled. “I wouldn’t tell you if you were right, Tim. What you don’t know, you may not have to perjure yourself about later. Let’s just leave it that we’ve got to steal that Ford back tonight and get something out of it that I mislaid.”
    “We got to do that?” asked Rourke gently.
    “We,” said Shayne firmly. “It’s a two-man caper, Tim. You’re elected.”
    “Do you know what the penalty is for moving corpses around?”
    “No one has said it is a corpse,” Shayne reminded him. “Even so… do you remember ever asking me that same question before?”
    “No, I don’t. And if you think for a minute…”
    “A couple of times, Tim.” Shayne moved around in front of him and grinned happily. “Actually, we never did find out the answer because we never got caught at it.”
    “That was years ago,” Rourke protested feebly. “We were crazy in those days. Now, God damn it, we’re grown up.”
    Shayne laughed at him. “Maybe you are. Hell! I thought I was… until tonight.” He paused, looking away from Timothy Rourke. He was using the same arguments that Carla had used with him. Well, why not? He had been persuaded by them.
    He turned back and said slowly, “You’ve got to help me, Tim. I’m really in a spot this time.”
    “I don’t see why,” muttered Rourke. “Hell, it may be days before that guy Duclos has any reason to open up his trunk. He probably drives it to work… parks it in a lot somewhere. What’s the reason for going off half-cocked tonight? Probably be plenty of chances the next day or so to get to the car unobtrusively and remove… well, whatever it is you left behind.”
    Shayne said angrily, “What if he has a flat on his way to work tomorrow morning? How do we know his wife doesn’t drive him to work and bring the car home for the day? Can’t you see her driving into a supermarket tomorrow and buying three or four sacks of groceries… having a boy take them out to the car for her, and her saying, ‘just a minute while I open up the trunk and you can put them in there.’ Where would I be then?”
    “Well, where would you be?” asked Rourke weakly. “How could anybody prove the body was yours?”
    Shayne stopped pretending it wasn’t a body he was talking about. He said savagely, “How much proof would the cops need? Right now they know I had possession of the car tonight. So far as can be proven, I’m the only one who has had possession of it since it was stolen from in front of Duclos’ house. Me. Mike Shayne. The conniving private dick who has a reputation for putting it over on the police. So they find a corpse securely locked in the trunk. No. I agree with you, Tim. That’s not proof of anything. But it’s pretty damn good prima facie evidence that your best friend knows more about the corpse than is good for him to know.”
    “But you are in the clear on it, aren’t you, Mike? The guy was dead when you came into the case… the way I put together the bits and pieces you’ve been tossing me. There’d be no real rap facing you even if they did prove you put the body there.”
    Shayne turned away from the reporter, took two short steps to the table and poured himself a drink. “You’re right, Tim,” he agreed in a conversational tone. “I’d probably be able to talk myself out of a real rap if I came clean and told them exactly how it happened. I might get my license suspended… or even lose it… but, what the hell? I’m not broke. In fact, I’ve been promising Lucy I’d take a long vacation. Maybe this is a good time to do it.”
    He held his drink up to the light and stared at it for a moment with a frown. “The only thing is, Tim, in order to clear myself I’d have to tell everything I know about that dead man. And that would ruin a couple of innocent lives. Is that what you want? Or are you going to get off your dead ass and go out and help me steal that Ford back tonight?” He tipped the glass to his mouth and drank deeply.
    Timothy Rourke said, “You knew the answer to that before you asked it.”
    Shayne said absently, “Of course I did. All we got to do now is figure how to pull it off.” He looked at his watch. “Ten minutes after one. Let’s get the local portion of the final newscast and see if there’s any change in the picture.” He stepped to one side and turned the switch on a portable radio.
    In a moment they heard a glib voice saying, “And now for our final story of the evening… to send all of you to bed with a chuckle.
    “There was an old saying long ago that when a man bites a dog, that’s news. That may have become somewhat trite these days, but there are variations on the theme which still ring the bell.
    “How about this one for instance: Detective found in possession of stolen automobile assaults citizen who seeks to halt his getaway and attempts to bribe incorruptible police officers who apprehend him in the act?
    “Yes, sir. That’s the story that comes out of Miami tonight. Michael Shayne is the detective involved in tonight’s comedy of errors… or, were they errors?
    “Mike Shayne in person. The redheaded, two-fisted, hard-drinking private eye, glorified in numerous crime novels and on television was accused of just that tonight.
    “Involved in a minor traffic accident in downtown Miami while driving a stolen Ford sedan belonging to George Duclos of this city, the terror of the television screen went berserk and brutally assaulted the driver of the other car whose identity remains unknown in a frantic effort to escape before officers of the law reached the scene.
    “Foiled in this attempt by Officers Ernie Hale and Eugene Barkus, veteran members of Miami’s traffic detail, this man who is licensed by the State of Florida as a private investigator and who is sworn to uphold the law, offered a cash bribe to the officers which was promptly and properly refused on the spot, and the redheaded, fiery-tempered Mr. Shayne was hauled into police headquarters with handcuffs on his wrists like any ordinary felon to face the variety of charges placed against him.
    “Due to his influence with some of the higher-ranking members of the Miami Police Department, it is the understanding of this reporter that Shayne was later released on his own recognizance… with a slap on the wrist as it were, and an admonition to go and sin no more.
    “It is a moot question whether this is the end of the affair. Perhaps there are two different sets of rules in the city of Miami governing the actions of ordinary private citizens and of extraordinary private detectives. We will demand and expect a statement from Chief of Police Will Gentry early tomorrow morning concerning the disposition of this case.
    “And, now this is your roving reporter, Earl Hodges, signing off…”

10

    Michael Shayne flipped off the radio and turned to Rourke who was leaning back comfortably with a satanic look of glee on his emaciated face. “There’s your headline for tomorrow. A real, good, juicy one.” He smacked his lips approvingly. “We’ll have to work up some sort of story to counteract it in the News.”
    Shayne sat down glumly and sipped his drink. “Right now we’ve got more important things to think about than unfavorable publicity. What’s that guy’s address, Tim?”
    “Duclos?” The reporter took a notebook from his pocket and opened it. “Out in the Little River section. George Duclos. In the two hundred block on Northwest Seventy-seventh Street.”
    Shayne said, “Finish your drink and let’s go out to have a look-see.”
    Rourke sighed and said, “I’m beginning to think you’re serious. Look. If we get caught at it this time…”
    Shayne said, “We won’t get caught, Tim. We’ll just case the joint and see what the situation is. Shouldn’t be too difficult. All we need is a few minutes alone with that Ford.” He drained his glass and stood up decisively.
    Rourke groaned audibly and followed him with feigned reluctance. They went down the hallway to the stairs, down those and out the side door into the night. Shayne strode directly to the reporter’s car parked in front of his and opened the door on the right side. “Better use your transportation,” he suggested casually. “Too many cops know my car and they might start wondering if they saw me prowling around that neighborhood tonight.”
    Rourke went around and got in beside him. “Sure. Let’s take my car… and stick out my neck.”
    Shayne grinned and lit a cigarette as Rourke started up and made a U-turn in the middle of the block. “There’s no law against you driving me around town. We won’t take any chances, Tim.”
    “Ha-ha,” Rourke laughed hollowly. “Old cautious Mike Shayne. Sure. I know.” He turned east to the Boulevard and headed north. “You going to tell me any more about how you got yourself dragged into this mess?”
    “I’ve already told you,” Shayne reminded him mildly. “This friend of Brett’s called me up…”
    “From the Encanto Hotel?” demanded Rourke, hunched over the wheel and driving a moderate forty miles per hour over the almost empty Boulevard.
    “From the Encanto,” agreed Shayne. “If you must know. She had a suite there with a corpse in her bedroom. Damn it, Tim. She hadn’t killed the guy. Her daughter had… just before she checked in from Hollywood. A sweet kid who’s scheduled to get married tomorrow. She panicked and left a note for mama and ran out.”
    “How do you know all this?” asked Rourke cautiously. “There’s a good-looking dame who tells you a plausible story…”
    “I read the note her daughter left her. I’ve got it in my pocket,” Shayne told him angrily. “For Christ’s sake, don’t work so hard being cynical, Tim. This is on the up-and-up. The girl shot him in self-defense when he came to the hotel room looking for her mother… and then attacked her. No jury in the world would ever hold her for that.”
    “Then why get yourself involved? If it’s open and shut like you say…”
    “Because the guy she shot to death was her own father… only she didn’t know it. You see, the guy deserted her mother before she was born, and she never saw him. Now do you get the picture? Are you going to contend that she should be told the truth… on the eve of her wedding… give her something to live with the rest of her life?”
    “Won’t she find out anyhow?”
    “Not if we’re lucky and can get hold of that damned corpse and dispose of it somewhere a long way from the Encanto. It’s a long story, Tim, but take my word for it. The odds are fifty-to-one she’ll never know it was her father this way. If I’d left the body lying there and called the cops as I should have, there would have been different headlines in tomorrow’s paper. You would have done the same damned thing I did under the same circumstances.”
    “Maybe,” muttered Timothy Rourke. “Fifteen years ago… sure. But we’re growing up, Mike.”
    “Speak for yourself,” Shayne told him blithely. He stretched out his long legs and took a deep drag on his cigarette, and then chuckled happily. “Personally, I haven’t had so much fun in years. When those cops told me I was driving a stolen car… and with a stiff locked up in the trunk there at headquarters… He threw back his head and laughed heartily at the recollection. “That stupid Georgia Cracker putting the handcuffs on me! If he’d just gone around and unlocked the trunk…”
    “I’ll bet you weren’t laughing then,” Rourke said sourly. They were approaching the intersection at 79th, and he slowed and pulled into the left lane to make the turn.
    “No,” agreed Shayne. “But it is funny now… looking back on it.”
    Rourke turned on 79th and drove slowly through the Little River business section to Miami Avenue where he turned south two blocks and then onto 77th Street. Leaving the avenue behind them, they entered a residential section of modest homes where practically all the houses were dark at this time of night.
    In the 200 block, only one house was lighted at either side of the tree-lined street. Rourke slowed to a crawl as he approached it, checking the numbers. He muttered, “That’s the Duclos house with the lights on. They must be celebrating getting their car back.”
    He continued past without actually stopping, and Shayne, looking out the window on his side, saw there was no Ford parked in the driveway, and the one-car attached garage stood open and empty.
    “It’s not there, damn it. Pull in to the curb here at the corner and shut off your lights. Where the hell do you suppose Duclos is? He was supposed to have left the station before I did.”
    “Maybe he had a flat tire driving home,” suggested Rourke caustically. “Maybe every police car in town is looking for Mike Shayne right now.”
    “Maybe. But let’s wait here a little and see what happens. If he drives up pretty soon, we can go back to the Avenue for a drink and wait for him to get settled for the night. It’s pretty dark back there in the middle of the block, and the driveway and garage are well shaded.”
    Rourke sighed and slumped morosely behind the wheel. “It’s your job, Mike. I just drove you out here.”
    They both smoked two cigarettes while they sat in silence and waited, and not a single car came down the residential street. Behind them, the front windows of the one-story Duclos house continued to show bright light, but there was nothing to indicate what was going on inside.
    When Shayne spun the butt of his second cigarette away, he said impatiently, “This isn’t getting us anywhere. We might sit here all night.”
    Rourke pulled himself erect behind the wheel and reached for the ignition key. “My sentiments exactly. Let’s get the hell out…”
    “And drive around the block and come back and stop right in front,” Shayne told him calmly. “You go in and find out what’s what with that Ford.”
    “Me?”
    “You’re a reporter,” Shayne reminded him. “You’ve come out to get an interview with Duclos about how his car was stolen and got recovered so quickly. Nothing queer about that. Ask his wife where he is and when she expects him.”
    “Suppose he’s there?” Rourke was slowly driving around the block as Shayne directed. “He might have left the car some place… loaned it to a friend or some damn thing.”
    “Then find out where it is,” said Shayne. “Tell him you want to examine it for fingerprints to disprove my story that someone else stole it and loaned it to me. He’ll go for that. He was sore at the police station because they didn’t have me locked up in a cell.”
    Rourke sighed and turned back into the block where the single lighted house stood out like a beacon in the night. He said wonderingly, “I get sucked into doing the damnedest things.”
    “All in a good cause,” Shayne told him heartily. “I’ll slouch down out of sight if a car pulls up.”
    Rourke stopped directly in front of the lighted house and shut off his ignition and lights. He got out and went up the walk to the front door with a porch light on, and Shayne watched from the front seat of the car while he rang the bell and waited for at least a full minute before the door opened to admit him.
    A woman stood inside the door blinking uncertainly at Timothy Rourke. She had a thin face and straggly brown hair streaked with gray, a sharp nose and faded blue eyes. She wore a cotton print dress and a pair of scuffed blue slippers without any stockings.
    He said, “Mrs. Duclos,” and she nodded slowly, considering him without rancor but without apparent interest.
    He stepped forward briskly and she moved aside to let him enter a small, steamy, cluttered sitting room, with shabby furniture and a general run-down appearance.
    “I’m a reporter from the Miami News,” he told her. “I’d like to talk to your husband if he’s home.”
    She said, “He isn’t here right now. But I’m expecting him any minute. I don’t know. They called him about his car being stolen. The police did. And he went down to see about it. That was an hour or so ago. Was that what you wanted to talk to him about?”
    Passing close in front of her to get inside, Rourke got a strong whiff of gin and tonic on her breath, and glancing across the room at a low armchair with a faded slipcover on it and pages of the News scattered on the floor around it, he saw a tall glass on a side table with the remnants of a drink in the bottom of it
    He said hastily, “Yes. It’s about the stolen car. I’m surprised he isn’t home yet I know he picked his car up at headquarters about an hour ago.”
    “George’ll be along I guess,” she said indifferently, closing the door and waving one hand vaguely toward a butt-sprung couch. “You want to wait, he’ll be along, I guess. He was that upset about the car when they telephoned him.” She moved past him toward the armchair, sliding her feet along on the worn carpet carefully, almost shuffling, and giving the impression that she wasn’t entirely too steady on her feet. “He didn’t know it was stolen, you see… until they called him. He’d parked it out front and, when they asked him over the phone, he looked out and then he said, ‘Why, by God! It’s gone.’ You know. You don’t expect something like that to happen. Not in a quiet neighborhood like this, you don’t. And so they had a police car to stop by to pick him up to go down and identify it, and I don’t know why he isn’t back home yet. Won’t you sit down… Mister? Could I offer you something to drink, maybe?” She lifted her own glass and drank the dregs, then looked at him over the rim almost coyly. “There’s gin in the kitchen… and some kind of mixer, I guess.”
    Rourke remained standing. He said, “Nothing for me. Thanks just the same.” His gaze wandered around the room, avoiding the somewhat avid look in her pale blue eyes while he mentally cursed himself for allowing Shayne to push him into this sort of situation. “Not much use my waiting, I guess,” he said uncertainly. “If you don’t know what’s holding him up, you don’t know how long he’ll be.”
    He paused abruptly, his roving gaze caught by a 4x6 photograph in a cardboard folder on the mantel of an ornamental (though certainly not usable) fireplace at the end of the room. The woman in the picture was quite clearly Mrs. Duclos, taken ten or fifteen years before, and the features of the man standing beside her brought a strong feeling of recognition to the reporter.
    It was not a prepossessing face. Thin and ratlike. With shifty eyes that were too close together, and a tight mouth that smirked rather than smiled.
    It was definitely not a picture of her husband, whom Rourke had talked to at police headquarters just a short time before. It was just as definitely the picture of a man whom Rourke knew he should recognize… someone whom he had met very recently or whose picture he had seen very recently.
    Timothy Rourke had a sixth sense for the memory of faces. Long years of reportorial training had developed that sense to an acute degree, and he often remembered and recognized the picture of someone who had been in the news five or ten years previously-
    Now he felt a familiar tingle traveling up his spine as he looked across at the photograph on the mantel. He should recognize it. He knew he had seen that face recently… and under circumstances which he should recall. He didn’t know why, but there was that sixth sense working strongly inside him.
    He moved across the room to look at the picture more closely, asking, “Is this your husband, Mrs. Duclos?” knowing, of course, that it wasn’t.
    “George? No. ’S my brother Al.”
    “Your brother?” Rourke nodded slowly, studying the picture intently. “I can see the family resemblance now, although I must say you’re a lot better looking. Does he live in Miami?”
    “Al? No. He just lives all over. You know. I don’t see him or even hear from him for years until he just suddenly shows up. You know. When he’s broke and needs a square meal. Like today.”
    “He showed up unexpectedly today?” Rourke kept his voice light and casual, still with that tingle working inside him.
    “That’s right. Like I said. You never know with Al. Never a word for years and then he rolls up like a bad penny. I was afraid George’d be sore, but he wasn’t. Seemed like he and Al got on real good.”
    “Is he staying here with you?”
    “Where else? We got a spare bedroom.”
    “I wonder if I could talk to him,” suggested Rourke, “while I’m waiting for your husband? Just fill me in on background material.”
    “George and him went down to the corner bar on Miami Avenue for a beer after dinner. George came back about ten and said Al looked like he was headed to make a night of it. I told him he shouldn’t give that no-good brother of mine money to spend on beer, but George just laughed and said he’d only give him two bucks and he guessed that wouldn’t break us. And anyhow he was with some others that was buying, and he guessed Al’d be back after he spent the two bucks. But he ain’t showed up yet, so I guess them others must still be buying.”
    She lifted her empty glass and peered at it “Sure you don’t want a drink, Mister?”
    “No. But why don’t you fix yours?” Rourke’s thin features were alert with excitement and his deep-set eyes glittered. He was on the verge of it, damn it. It was important that he remember where he had seen that face before. All of the ingrained instincts of a news-hound clamored at him that it was important for him to remember.
    “Don’t let me interrupt you,” he added politely. “I’ll have to be going in a minute anyhow.”
    “Well…” She studied her glass doubtfully. “I guess I might’s well at that.” She got to her feet carefully. “Sure you won’t have something? Glass of beer, maybe?”
    “No, thanks. You go ahead and get one for yourself.” Rourke stood with his back to the mantel and watched her navigate a calculated course out of the room and into the kitchen. When she was safely out of sight, he turned and snatched up the cardboard folder, closed it and thrust it down inside the waistband and belt of his trousers, buttoning his unpressed jacket across in front of it.
    Then he crossed to the front door where he waited until Mrs. Duclos came back from the kitchen carrying a full glass happily in front of her.
    He pulled the door open and apologized, “I’ve got to run now and keep a date with a deadline at the paper. When Mr. Duclos comes in, ask him to call me at the Miami News, huh? Timothy Rourke. Just ask them for Tim Rourke. I’ll talk to him on the telephone.”
    “Well, all right,” she agreed uncertainly. “If you’re sure you don’t wanta wait.”
    He said, “I’m afraid I can’t,” and went out the door and closed it gently behind him.
    Shayne was waiting in the car when he hurried around to the driver’s seat and got in. The detective growled, “Took you long enough. Duclos there?”
    “No. She hasn’t seen him or heard from him since he went down to pick up his car. Expects him home any minute though.”
    “You and she take time for a quick lay?” Shayne asked with obvious irritation.
    Rourke laughed shortly. “If you could have seen her! Listen, Mike. I’m onto something. I don’t know what the hell it is yet, but it’s something. Listen. There was a picture on the mantel. Mrs. Duclos and a guy she says is her no-good brother. Mike! That guy is in the news. Last few days. God-damn it! I don’t know how or what.” In frustration, Rourke beat his doubled fist against the steering wheel.
    “But I know it in my bones. That guy is a fugitive. He’s wanted. Let’s pick him up first, and then find out what it’s all about.”
    “What do you mean? Pick him up?”
    “She tells me he showed in Miami today. Broke and hungry. So her husband took him down to a local bistro on the corner of Miami Avenue for a beer after dinner, and he came back about ten but the brother didn’t.”
    Rourke turned on the lights and started his motor and pulled away slowly. “Presumably the brother is still down at the corner bar sopping up free drinks. We stop by and pick him up, Mike. You’ll get a headline for tomorrow that will put your stolen car caper in the shade.”
    He went around two corners and headed back for Miami Avenue. Shayne still didn’t wholly comprehend what he was talking about. He said, “We pick up this woman’s brother? What the hell for?”
    “I told you I don’t know. But I do know he’s wanted by the law… and bad. We take him in and we’ll find out. Mike Shayne comes through again. Nabs desperate fugitive single-handed.” Rourke turned the corner on Miami and nodded toward neon lights glowing a block ahead on the right-hand side. “That’ll be it.”
    He found a parking place in front of the tavern and stopped, turned his head to look at Shayne’s face. “You don’t look real happy,” he complained.
    Shayne said helplessly, “I just don’t get it, Tim. You just saw this guy’s picture. Your intuition tells you that he’s a wanted man. Ergo: We walk in and arrest him. On what charge?”
    “You’re a detective,” said Rourke cheerfully. “You’ve got the authority. Look. Have I ever let you down, Mike? Don’t you know that I know what I’m talking about?”
    Shayne grinned and said simply, “You always have, Tim. Okay, I’ll ride with you. What does he look like?”
    Rourke unbuttoned his jacket and pulled out the photograph he had stolen from the mantel. He showed it to Shayne. “There he is. I still can’t place that mug, but… he’s wanted, Mike. I’ll swear to that.”
    Shayne took the picture of Mrs. George Duclos and her brother, and studied it carefully in the glaring light of the neon sign.
    Then he said grimly, “We’re not going to find him inside that bar, Tim.”
    “How do you know we’re not? She says he and her husband came here after dinner for a beer… and as far as she knows he’s still here. If he’s left, we can maybe show the picture around and find out where he’s gone.”
    Shayne shook his red head firmly and said, “It just happens I know where he is, Tim. Inside the trunk of the Duclos Ford… rolled up in a blanket I snitched from the Encanto Hotel.”

11

    “For God’s sake, Mike! You sure about that?” Rourke turned to stare at his companion with glittering eyes in which the excitement of a few minutes ago was intensified.
    “I ought to be sure. He and I were pretty intimate there for a few minutes. So he’s George Duclos’s brother-in-law,” Shayne said thoughtfully. “Let’s see where the hell that fits in. He was driving George’s Ford when he went to the Encanto…”
    “Is that where you got hold of it?” interrupted Rourke. “You didn’t tell me that.”
    “Yeh. I found the parking stub in his pocket and thought as long as I was moving the body I might as well get his car away at the same time… without knowing it was stolen, of course. Which maybe it was or maybe it wasn’t,” he added.
    “You mean maybe Duclos loaned it to him… and then later when the cops called he got scared and looked out the window and reported it stolen?”
    “It’s an old dodge. If so, it must mean that Duclos knew he was hot… or at least that he might be headed for some sort of trouble at the Encanto. In that case he must be wondering like hell how I come to turn up driving the car he’d lent his brother-in-law.”
    “We don’t know he did lend it, of course. The way Mrs. Duclos explained it, the two of them came down to the corner bar for a drink after dinner. Her husband came back alone, saying her brother, Al, was sticking around for a time. Could be that Al just waited until George got safely inside the house, then slipped back and copped the car… knowing it was sitting outside with the keys in it.”
    “Sure it could be either way.” Shayne tugged at his left earlobe impatiently. “You called him Al. That’s the name of Carla’s husband all right. What else did she tell you about him?”
    “Carla?” asked Rourke.
    “Brett’s friend I told you about. The one who phoned me. She claimed she hadn’t seen the guy for ten or fifteen years… thought he was dead. He’d done time in the pen at least once, and she’d heard he’d been shot in a holdup after he was released.”
    “Sounds like our Al, all right. Mrs. Duclos said he had a way of popping up unannounced like a bad penny after she hadn’t heard from him in years. I wish to God I could place that face, Mike. I know I’ve seen a picture of that mug in the last few days, and I know that he’s wanted for some recent crime. Not local, I think. Something must have come over the wires… His voice trailed off. Then he opened the car door decisively. “A couple of drinks may bring it back to me. Why in hell are we sitting out here? I think it’s time you told me a little more about how you got acquainted with the guy.”
    “He was dead when I met him.” Shayne got out somewhat reluctantly, though he realized he could also stand a drink at this point.
    They went inside the noisy bar which was still crowded this late on Saturday night and had a jukebox in one corner that added to the drunken din of voices.
    They found a vacant booth at the extreme end of the room where they couldn’t possibly be overheard, and waited until drinks were put in front of them by a hard-faced, big-breasted waitress who was in a hurry to get back to a conversation she was having at the bar with two men who took turns patting her butt while she leaned between them.
    “Al Donlin,” Shayne said after he took the first sip of his drink. “That’s his name. Ring a bell?”
    Rourke shook his head. “Mrs. Duclos didn’t mention his last name. No, it doesn’t, Mike. Could be he was using an alias… if he’s got a record.”
    “Yeh. It could be. Carla evidently didn’t know anything about that… him being mixed up in something recently and being wanted. Maybe she would have reacted differently, if she had known. But I guess not. It wouldn’t really have changed anything. He was dead… and her daughter had shot her own father.” He made a grimace. “Where do we go from here? Where in hell is Duclos?”
    “Let’s put ourselves in his place. Assume that Al did confide in him that he was in trouble and on the lam and needed money desperately, and was headed for the Encanto Hotel to brace his wife for some… that’s what he was after, I suppose?”
    “She doesn’t know, of course. Remember, she didn’t even see him alive. He pushed in on the girl, completely unknown to her, demanded her mother, and said, ‘You must be Vicky.’ Naturally, she didn’t know what it was about. They had a struggle and she grabbed up a pistol that fell out of her suitcase and shot him. He probably did go there for money, though.”
    “Wait a minute. If he just hit town today… and they’ve been out of touch for years… and you say she just flew in from Hollywood tonight… how in hell did he know to go straight to her suite at the Encanto?”
    “Carla wondered about that, too. But I found a newspaper clipping in his pocket torn out of yesterday’s News, with a picture of the daughter and a story about her wedding and the statement that her mother was flying in today… or yesterday, that is,” he added with a look at his watch. “It was a hell of a coincidence, but he must have figured God was being good to him.”
    “All right. Back to Duclos. We’re assuming that he let Al take his car to go to the Encanto to try and get hold of some dough. An hour or so later, the police call to ask about the Ford registered in his name. He figures there’s been trouble, and quick says his car has been stolen. He still doesn’t know what has happened when he gets to the police station and discovers that a private detective has been picked up driving his car. No sign of Al. No word about him at all. What in hell can the guy do? He can’t ask questions without getting involved. He must be in a hell of a dither right now wondering where the devil Al is… what happened at the Encanto… and particularly, how come Mike Shayne ended up driving his Ford. So, what does he do? Go home and to bed?”
    “Well, we know he didn’t do that.” Shayne morosely drained his glass and began making moisture rings with it on the formica table top.
    “None of this makes any real difference to my problem,” he pointed out impatiently. “That body is still floating around town wrapped up in a blanket from the Encanto Hotel… in a car the police know I was driving earlier. I’ve still got to get my hands on that corpse, Tim.”
    “I know. Sure.” Timothy Rourke lit a cigarette and frowned thoughtfully through the blue smoke across the table at his friend. “If we knew what Al was mixed up in it might help. Maybe he has known associates in Miami. Maybe Duclos knows about them and is trying to contact them… hoping to find Al or learn what became of him.” He looked down at his empty glass. “Maybe another drink will help.”
    Shayne shook his head and growled, “We’d better both go slow on the drinks until we find out where we stand. How about you going back to the office and checking crime stories for the last few days? Won’t you find it that way?”
    “Probably.” Rourke pushed the empty glass away reluctantly. “I hate to admit my memory is slipping. I always said I never forgot a face that had news value.”
    “You’re getting older,” Shayne chided him. “You pointed that out to me very forcibly tonight Why not go to the office and give your jaded memory an assist?”
    He left two bills on the table and they went out of the noisy tavern into the quiet of the night.
    With Rourke behind the wheel, Shayne suggested, “Let’s make one last swing back by the Duclos house. Maybe George has finally showed up.”
    But another drive past the house on 77th Street showed it still lighted as before and no Ford yet in evidence.
    Rourke speeded up after they passed, turned up to 79th and swung back east to the Boulevard.
    They drove south in brooding silence for a time, each busy with his own thoughts and secure in the knowledge that communication between the two of them did not require words at this point.
    Shayne roused himself from his reverie when Rourke began to slow for the turn off the Boulevard that would take him to the newspaper office.
    “Keep on going,” he directed. “I think you’d better drop me off, Tim.”
    “You sure? If I’m lucky it won’t take me very long to get all the dope on Al. I know it’s right there, Mike.”
    Shayne said, “I’d better get back to my place. It occurs to me that Duclos may be trying desperately to get hold of me right now… and God knows I’d like to reach him.”
    “That’s supposing he knows it was Al who had his car tonight, and he’s worried about what happened.”
    “Yeh. And it also crossed my mind that even if Al didn’t confide in his brother-in-law it’s possible he has other friends here who knew he was stealing that car to drive to the Encanto. Maybe they were waiting for him to come back with some dough. So they’ll be worried and wondering, and maybe try to reach me.”
    “How would they know you had anything to do with Al’s disappearance?”
    “There was that one o’clock newscast,” Shayne reminded him. “Private dick caught driving automobile stolen from George Duclos. Anyone who knew Al was supposed to be using that car would start wondering when he heard that”
    “I guess so.” Rourke continued on south past Flagler Street, and turned off to pull up in front of Shayne’s hotel. “Can I get you here as soon as I dig up that information?”
    “I’ll call you at the office if anything comes up before you call.” Shayne got out and went in to the empty lobby of the small hotel while Rourke pulled away behind him.
    Pete, the night clerk was on duty. He was a longtime employee of the hotel, a confidant of the detective, and the sharer of many of the redhead’s secrets.
    He grinned widely from behind the desk as Shayne approached, and assumed a conspiratorial manner. “Hi, Mr. Shayne. After that one o’clock newscast I wondered did they have you under the jail or what. That’s what I told the dame when she came looking for you. I says to her, ‘Well, it’s okay for you to go up and wait for Mr. Shayne in his room because he always told me I wasn’t to say no to any female if she was under seventy and still had her own teeth. Make yourself at home,’ I told her, ‘but I sure can’t guarantee when he’ll be back.’ And she said she’d take a chance on that, and I sent her on up with a boy to unlock your door.”
    Shayne leaned on the counter and lifted ragged red eyebrows in astonishment. “A dame, Pete?”
    “Yeh. And she’s plenty under seventy and they sure look like her own teeth. She acted scared stiff and mighty anxious to see you. You in real trouble with the law this time?”
    Shayne said, “No more than usual, Pete. They’re yapping at my heels, sort of. I guess I can handle it.”
    “I bet you can,” said Pete worshipfully. “Why’d any cop be dumb enough to think you’d steal a car?”
    Shayne grinned and told him cheerfully, “I’ll call you for a character witness.”
    He left the desk and went to the open elevator where a colored boy dozed on the bench inside, tapped him on the shoulder to waken him and was taken up to the second floor.
    The door to his apartment was closed, but light from inside showed through the transom.
    Shayne unlocked the door and opened it, and said without too much surprise to the woman who leaped up and stood staring at him, “Hello, Carla. What’s wrong?”

12

    “Oh my God, Mike!” She trotted toward him, both hands outstretched, seeming to go all to pieces at the mere sight of him standing there.
    He caught her tightly by the elbows and she leaned her weight against him, her face buried against his shoulder, sobbing brokenly.
    He held her tightly for a moment, his brooding gaze looking over her head at the two liquor bottles he and Rourke had left sitting on the center table. He wasn’t sure, but he had a feeling the level of bourbon was about two inches lower than it had been when they went out.
    He turned her away from him after a moment, put an arm about her supple and firm waist, and half-propelled her back to the chair in which she had been sitting.
    “This is no time to go to pieces, Carla. How is Vicky?”
    “Oh, Vicky is all right. She’s fine.” She sank down into the chair and smiled waveringly up at him. “She’s sound asleep in bed with a couple of pills… convinced that everything is just fine and the sun will shine again tomorrow like always. These kids nowadays. My God,” she added wonderingly. “The way they take things in their stride…”
    “She didn’t ask too many questions?”
    “Hardly any. I didn’t really have a chance to tell her the story I’d worked out so carefully. She just wanted to put it away from her… out of her mind. She was hysterical at first, but when she calmed down and realized that a miracle had happened… you being the miracle, Mike… and that there wasn’t any body lying there in the bedroom… well, I think it began to seem like just a bad dream to her. When she wakes up in the morning I have a feeling she won’t be sure whether it actually happened or not.”
    Shayne said strongly, “That’s fine. That’s wonderful.” His hand strayed out to the cognac bottle to pour a drink and he glanced in her direction and saw that her eyes were following his hand avidly.
    “Maybe I better keep you company with a little bit of bourbon.”
    He said shortly, “Make it a very little bit, Carla. We may not be all the way out of the woods yet.”
    “You’re telling me!” She obediently poured a small drink in the glass Timothy Rourke had left on the table. “What did happen, Mike? I’m all confused and scared stiff. I had to come here and talk to you. I didn’t know what else to do… with Vicky asleep in the other room.”
    Shayne frowned uncomfortably at his glass and took a sip from it. “Well, I mislaid the body. That’s all. If I can locate that Ford and get it back again before anybody else finds it, we should still be in the clear.”
    “You… mislaid the body?” Her voice rose tremendously and she looked utterly aghast. “How could you do that?”
    “It took some doing,” he admitted with a grimace. “But trust Mike Shayne to work out the small details. I thought you’d have guessed that much,” he went on. “If you heard the newscast…”
    “What newscast?”
    “At one o’clock. I assumed that’s what frightened you… why you were here.”
    “I didn’t hear any newscast, Mike. I had a telephone call. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to think. Some man wanting ten thousand dollars. I tried to stall him the best I could. I didn’t know what to do. I was feeling so relaxed and wonderful. Vicky was back safely and I’d just gotten her to sleep with a couple of my pills, and I thought the nightmare was over. And then the phone rang. I thought of course it was you calling to say everything was all right, and I grabbed the phone fast before its ringing in the bedroom wakened Vicky. And a strange man answered.”
    “Exactly what did he say?” Shayne’s face and voice were grim.
    “I… can’t repeat his exact words,” she faltered. “I was so utterly surprised and taken aback… and terribly frightened, of course. He asked, ‘What have you and that damned private dick done with Al?’ And then he began abusing me, saying I’d be sorry I called you in on it, and I’d better get some money together quick because he had to have it tonight. Ten thousand dollars, he said, because he had what I was after. That Al had given it to him for safekeeping before he came to see me, and if I didn’t dig up ten thousand dollars tonight the deal was all off and I’d never see or hear from it again.”
    “What is it?” Shayne asked blankly.
    “That’s what I asked him,” she cried out wildly. “I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about and he just sneered and said he thought I could guess all right.
    “And I told him I didn’t have any sum like ten thousand dollars and he said I’d better dig it up in cash in the next couple of hours. And then he said something like, ‘Get your private eye pal to help you raise the money. He’s got connections in town. He’s into this right up to his neck with you, and he knows what I’ve got is worth a lot more than that.’”
    Shayne’s face expressed complete puzzlement. “It couldn’t have been Duclos,” he muttered. “Talking about the body. You’re sure he said it was something Al had given him for safe-keeping before he came to see you?”
    “That’s what he said. And he seemed positive I knew what he was talking about. Of course, after he hung up I realized he couldn’t know that I hadn’t even talked to Al. He was assuming that I had and that I knew all about it.”
    “How did you leave things?” demanded Shayne.
    “I told him to give me an hour or so to see if I could raise the money. I told him I’d have to go out, and I gave him this telephone number and your extension and told him to call me here after an hour or so. I didn’t know what else to tell him, Mike. I was afraid he’d come there and waken Vicky. Or that the phone might waken her. And I thought maybe you could help me raise the money. I’ve got a little over a thousand in my purse, Mike. I’ll give you an IOU for the rest. I can get it Monday with a wire to my bank in L.A.” The words tumbled excitedly out of her mouth. “You will help me, won’t you? There must be places you can go in Miami even at this time of night to get some cash.”
    “But what for?” demanded Shayne. “What are we buying for ten grand?”
    “I don’t know what he’s talking about, but the way I see it I’m buying Vicky’s peace of mind and her future happiness. Whoever he is and whatever he’s got that belonged to Al, it’s perfectly clear that he knows Al came to see me tonight, and if we don’t pay him off everything will have to come out in the papers. And that’ll be bad for you, too, Mike. He knows you’re in it with me somehow. That’s one of the first things he said. So it’s to your advantage, too, to pay him off and shut him up. But I just want to borrow the money for a couple of days. I can well afford to pay. I don’t want you to use your money. You’ve done enough already.”
    Shayne moved restlessly in his chair and tugged at his earlobe. “I don’t want to see you paying ten thousand bucks for a pig in a poke,” he growled. “Let’s get this as straight as we can. From what this man said, there was nothing to indicate that he knows Al is already dead?”
    “N-no. I don’t think so,” she faltered. “I don’t remember exactly how he said it. He asked what we’d done to Al, I think. Or what we’d done with him? I got the impression he didn’t know what had happened.”
    “But he has something that belongs to Al which he’s willing to sell to you,” pondered Shayne. “That seems to indicate he doesn’t expect Al to come around and claim his property.”
    “You mean… he knows Al is dead and that’s why he feels safe in selling whatever it is to me?”
    “It might be the answer. In that case, if he got the money he’d probably be more than willing to keep his mouth shut about Al going to the Encanto tonight.”
    “And that’s all we want, isn’t it?” Her eyes were beginning to shine again and there was a look of fresh hope on her face. “We don’t care what it is that belonged to Al. We just want him not to tell the police that Al came to see me tonight.”
    “Which makes it pure and simple blackmail,” Shayne pointed out angrily.
    “What do we care what it is? I’m willing to pay… anything.”
    “If it will do us any real good. We’ve still got the problem of the missing body. I haven’t told you about that, Carla. We’re still on thin ice even if this man can be shut up. You see, Al’s body is riding around town right now, locked up in the trunk of a Ford belonging to Al’s brother-in-law and still wrapped in the hotel blanket. The police know I was driving the car tonight, and as soon as the body is discovered they’re going to be on my neck.”
    “Did you say Al’s brother-in-law?”
    “Yes. Did you know he had a sister living in Miami?”
    “I knew there were a couple of sisters, but I didn’t know them or where they lived.”
    “One bit of information I picked up tonight that might have some bearing on the picture is that Al has recently been mixed up in some sort of crime and is probably wanted by the police. You don’t know anything about that, I suppose?”
    “How could I? I told you I haven’t heard a word about him for years.”
    Shayne muttered, “I know you told me that. It just occurred to me you might be holding something back. Don’t do it, Carla. If I’m going to go on helping you I’ve got to know exactly where I stand.”
    She lifted her chin and met his steady, probing gaze unflinchingly. “Every word I’ve told you is the truth, Mike. I’m not surprised if Al is in trouble with the law. If he’s a fugitive, won’t that… help some when his body is found? I mean, won’t the police be more inclined to say good riddance and not work too hard to find out who shot him?”
    “That’s partially true,” Shayne agreed. “However, it doesn’t change anything too much. What I was thinking, Carla, is about this man who called you. Did he seem to assume that you were close to Al… that you were aware of his current situation? In other words, thinking back on the telephone conversation and knowing, now, that Al is in some very recent and very bad trouble with the law… is it your impression that this man thought you knew about it… that he may be an accomplice or something?”
    “I honestly don’t know how to answer that, Mike. He sounded very much as though he thought I knew exactly what he had to sell me, and as though I should be very glad to buy it for ten thousand dollars. I just didn’t know how to answer him.” She shuddered openly and drank the last of the small amount of liquor she had poured into her glass.
    “What do all these questions matter now?” she asked passionately as she set the glass down hard on the table. “Our only concern is Vicky… and keeping her out of this. If we can manage that by paying him off… isn’t that worthwhile?”
    “We’re both in the middle of it along with Vicky,” Shayne reminded her soberly. “If the truth about tonight’s shenanigans ever comes out into the open, you and I are both subject to very serious charges.”
    “All the more reason for hushing it up if we can,” she cried out excitedly. “Look!” She snatched up her handbag and extracted a leather wallet which she opened and from which she took a sheaf of bills. She spread them out on the table in front of him. Nine hundred-dollar bills, a fifty, two twenties, and a ten. There were a few other twenties and tens which she separated from the others and put back into her wallet.
    “There’s an even thousand, Mike,” she breathed, pushing the pile of bills toward him. “That’s practically all the cash I brought with me. Take it. And I’ll give you an IOU for the other nine thousand. Please don’t argue about it any more. Have you got a blank sheet of paper?” She scrabbled inside her bag, came up with a ballpoint pen and looked at him hopefully.
    Keeping his gaunt face expressionless, Shayne opened the center drawer of the table and pulled out a blank sheet of writing paper. She pulled it toward her and scribbled on it: “Mike Shayne. IOU Nine Thousand Dollars ($9,000.00). Payable on demand.” And she signed it, “Carla Andrews.”
    “There,” she breathed, pushing it toward him. “Will you please get the rest of the money in cash, Mike?”
    Shayne carefully folded the bills comprising her thousand dollars lengthwise, and picked up her signed IOU. He studied it for a moment, then folded it around the bills and put the small packet in his pocket. “All right, Carla. Much as I dislike blackmail…” He shrugged his broad shoulders with a grimace of repugnance, and then looked at his watch. “How long ago was it when this character telephoned you?”
    “It seems like a long time. It was… something after one o’clock, I know. About one-thirty or a quarter of two. I left the hotel and came straight over here.”
    Shayne said briskly, “It’s almost two-thirty now. He should be calling you pretty soon.” He hesitated, frowning down at the floor. “When you gave him this number, you didn’t tell him it was my phone, did you?”
    “No. I just said I was going to see a friend who might help me get the money. I thought maybe it would be better if he didn’t know I was coming straight to you.”
    “You were probably right. When he calls, you answer the phone. Just tell him you’re with a friend who’s getting the money together for you… and turn the phone over to me. I’ll arrange to meet him somewhere and give him the cash.”
    “Can you get it all right? At this time of night?”
    Shayne said, “I can get it. Right now I’m more worried about the Ford that’s rolling around town with your husband’s body in the trunk than I am about this other deal. Fixing one still isn’t going to fix the other.”
    “Oh?” She looked quite dismayed, then said faintly, “I…”
    Shayne shook his red head wearily. “I’m hoping the brother-in-law will come to me. Otherwise, I’ve got to try and get my hands on that Ford somehow…”
    He was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. He instinctively reached a hand out for it, then checked himself and nodded to her. “You take it and see if it’s your man.”
    Fearfully, she lifted the receiver and said, “Hello,” into the mouthpiece. Watching her while she listened, Shayne saw the strained look fade from her face. “Yes,” she said briskly. “I’ve got everything arranged. My friend, Mr… Jones, is helping me get the money. Why don’t you… talk to him and fix things between you?”
    She lifted her head and thrust the instrument at Shayne. “He wants to know when and where you’ll make the pay-off.”
    Shayne took it and said drily, “Jones speaking.” He stiffened as he recognized the voice that came over the wire. It was George Duclos, whom he had heard talking with Sergeant Loomis at police headquarters:
    “You got the money, huh? In cash?”
    Shayne said, “I’m getting it together. It takes a little time… two-thirty in the morning like this. I’ll have all of it ready in… oh… half an hour.”
    “Ten thousand. Right?”
    Shayne said, “Right. Where do I deliver it?”
    “I been thinking about that. This is on the up-and-up, huh? No angles. No cops?”
    “No angles and no cops,” Shayne assured the man. “You set it up to suit yourself.”
    “Fair enough. Half an hour, huh?”
    “Make it three-quarters,” Shayne hedged. “I’m still waiting to get my hands on the last two grand.”
    “Okay. Forty-five minutes. You come alone with the money. Northeast 64th Terrace where it deadends against the Bay. You got that?”
    Shayne said, “I’ve got it.” He looked at his watch. “In exactly forty-five minutes. The east end of 64th Terrace against the bayfront. I expect you to be alone, too.”
    “Sure. This is a strictly private deal, Jones.” Duclos chuckled nervously. “You don’t bring the money… tell the dame she’s S.O.L.”
    Shayne said, “I’ll tell her,” and hung up. He looked across with a reassuring grin at the woman who was leaning toward him eagerly.
    “Everything’s okay. All I’ve got to do is deliver ten grand to him in three-quarters of an hour.”
    “Can you get the rest of it together, Mike? In that short time?”
    “No trouble at all.” He waved a big hand reassuringly. “Relax. Take another drink now. Everything’s going to be okay.”
    “I don’t think I… want a drink right now,” she said tremulously. She got to her feet, smoothing down her dress self-consciously. “Could I… go to the little girl’s room?”
    Shayne said, “The bathroom’s right there.” He pointed to a closed door at the back next to the bedroom, and sat rigidly with his forehead furrowed while she went inside and closed the door tightly behind her.
    Then he leaned forward and picked up her handbag where she had left it sitting beside her chair, unsnapped it and hurriedly rummaged inside.
    His hand came out holding a hotel room key with a metal tag attached and the number 810 stamped on it. He dropped it into his pocket, closed the bag and replaced it on the floor where it had been.
    When she came out of the bathroom, he was leaning back blandly smoking a cigarette and studying the ceiling through the blue smoke that twirled upward.
    She sat down diffidently in her chair and hesitated, and then said in a small voice, “Forty-five minutes isn’t very much time, Mike… if you’re going to get all that money together.”
    He grinned at her and said, “I made a telephone call while you were in the bathroom. I’m expecting a call back… and everything will be set.”
    She said, “Oh,” and then happily, “I guess I will have another little drink before I go.”
    Shayne said, “Sure. Make it a big one, if you like. Nothing for you to worry about now.” He hesitated and added thoughtfully, “I think you’d better sit tight right here, Carla, while I make this contact. I don’t expect anything to go wrong, but you’d better be here where I can reach you, if anything does. Keep Vicky out of it altogether.”
    She said, “All right. But you let me know?”
    “I’ll come straight back.” He looked at his watch and muttered, “I expect a call right back.”
    At that instant his telephone rang. He grabbed it up and said, “Mike Shayne,” into the mouthpiece.
    As he had expected, Timothy Rourke’s voice came over the wire, bubbling with exultancy, “Got it, Mike. Hit it on the head, by God. Our boy is really on the wanted list. Want me to give it to you over the phone?”
    “No. I’d rather stop by and pick it up,” Shayne told him. “You’ve got all of it, huh?”
    “Plenty.”
    “Fine. Where’ll I meet you in ten minutes?”
    “How about my place, Mike? I’m at the office now, but I’m bushed.”
    “Right. I’ll be along in about ten minutes.” Shayne hung up and said, “That was easy. He’s got the whole nine grand waiting. All I have to do is pick it up and deliver it to your friend. I should be back here inside of an hour.”
    He got up as he spoke, opened a drawer of the table and lifted out a short-barrelled. 38 which he dropped into a side pocket She watched him with wide, troubled eyes and said fearfully, “Do you think there’s any danger?”
    “It’s always dangerous to make a deal with a blackmailer. Don’t worry. I can take care of myself.”
    “I know you can.” She got up swiftly and pressed herself close against him, looking up into his face with shining eyes and parted lips. “I’ll be waiting right here for you, Mike. I’ll be praying to God that nothing goes wrong.”
    He lowered his head and kissed her lips firmly. “Leave everything to me and don’t worry.” He patted her shoulder, grabbed his Panama and hurried out.

13

    Timothy Rourke was slouched back comfortably on a sagging sofa in the disordered sitting room of his bachelor apartment when Shayne entered ten minutes later. He had a highball glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other, and he grinned cheerfully at the detective and waved toward a bottle of bourbon and another glass on a table beside him. “I’m clean out of cognac, but this isn’t bad stuff in a pinch.”
    Shayne said, “I’ll skip the drink, Tim. What’s the story on our dead man?”
    Rourke pointed proudly to a folded newspaper on a chair under a lighted reading lamp. “Read it for yourself in the Montgomery paper. I picked up that copy after checking out a shorter version we ran on Friday from the wire report. We didn’t use that picture, but I’d seen it when it came in and that’s how I recognized it in the Duclos house.”
    Shayne sank into the chair and unfolded the Montgomery paper to a front page story headlined: BLOODY BANK ROBBERY.
    Beneath was a two-column cut showing the head and shoulders of the dead man he had last seen in the trunk of a Ford car. It was captioned: Killer Believed Drowned.
    The story was datelined Eureka, Alabama, the previous Thursday. The lead paragraph read:
    “Late today the sun-laden somnolence of this peaceful farming community was shattered by blazing guns and bloodshed which erupted in the wake of the armed robbery of Eureka’s only bank.” Shayne laid the paper aside and reached for a cigarette. “Why don’t you give me the facts, Tim, and save me the trouble of wading through the literary effusions of a small-town reporter?”
    Rourke grinned widely. “Don’t blame the guy. He doesn’t often get a chance to see his immortal prose spread over the front page of a big city daily. Here it is in a Rourkian nutshell:
    “Just before closing time two guys walked into the only bank on Eureka’s Main Street, population two thousand, where there were half a dozen customers. They got in line and waited until the guard locked the front door and drew the shades on the windows. Then they pulled guns and announced it was a stick-up. They made everybody lie flat on the floor, including the single guard whose gun they lifted.
    “All except one teller, a young fellow named Harvey Giles. They handed him a croker sack and ordered him to fill it with all the big bills available. He was scared stiff and did so, gathering up about forty thousand according to a later estimate. Then they ordered Giles to carry the sack out of the bank in front of them, telling the others that if anybody moved or turned in an alarm they’d shoot their hostage.
    “The whole deal went off like clockwork, and they went out the front door and started across the street toward a get-away car at the curb with a woman driver behind the wheel and the motor turning over.
    “They evidently kept their guns out of sight and no one paid any attention until they were almost to the car. Then a fool vice-president came running out the door of the bank waving a Banker’s Special he
    had grabbed up, and started shooting. One of them shot back… our friend Al there, according to the report… and killed the V.P.
    “Then they jerked open the front door of the car and shoved the teller inside, and threw the money bag in the back seat and started to jump in themselves when… whoosh! Away went the getaway car down the street with the money and Harvey Giles inside.
    “By that time the bank alarm was sounding off and citizens were running for guns, and the two deserted bandits grabbed a parked car and took off in the same direction as the money car on the highway leading to Montgomery, about twenty miles away.
    “By that time a deputy sheriff had got himself organized and took off after them on an eighty-mile-an-hour chase that lasted about five miles until the lead car failed to straighten out on a curve leading to a bridge over the Eureka River, went through the guard rail and about forty feet down into the flood-swollen stream. There was at least ten feet of fast water, and by the time the deputy got stopped and back to the scene the car was out of sight. They recovered it later that evening a few hundred feet downstream with nobody inside.
    “Nobody that saw it believes either of the robbers could have survived, and it’s generally expected that their bodies will be found miles away from the scene.”
    “But one of them, at least, didn’t drown.” Shayne gestured toward the picture.
    “That’s right. And you and I are the only ones who know that, Mike. He’s Al Newman, by the way. His partner in the robbery hasn’t been identified. Al was recognized in the bank as a character who had been shacked up in a motel on the outside of town for a week with the woman who drove the getaway car. They found that picture of him in the motel room. They were both complete strangers in town, apparently spent a week casing the bank job before pulling it off.”
    “What about the money and the bank teller?”
    “Poor Harvey Giles. He was picked up on a lonely side road about dark that same night, all bruised up and practically incoherent. As that paper went to press he had told a garbled story about the woman holding a gun on him while she drove away like a bat out of hell, circling off the main highway onto side roads, and finally stopping to tie him up and leave him miles from anywhere. He managed to get loose and make it to the road where he was found.
    “The car was found late that night on the outskirts of Montgomery, but the woman and the money had vanished. They’re still vanished, so far as any report we’ve had here shows.” Rourke stopped talking and took a long drink from his highball, his sunken eyes glittering and bright.
    “So where does that leave us, Mike?”
    “I’ll be goddamned if I know at this point. I think I will have a drink after all.” Shayne got up and poured bourbon into the glass on the table, carried it out to Rourke’s kitchenette to get ice and add some water to it. He came back, sipping it and grimacing.
    Studying his face carefully, Rourke asked, “Does any of this throw any light on the story you haven’t told me about tonight?”
    “I don’t see how it does,” Shayne told him moodily. “It all seems to fit in, more or less. Al Newman’s real name is probably Al Donlin… for whatever that’s worth. An ex-con who’s been in and out of trouble all his life. It explains why he turned up in Miami desperate for money and went to his sister’s house. If you didn’t run his picture in the local paper it’s perfectly possible that Mr. and Mrs. Duclos didn’t know anything about his present trouble. Or he may have told Duclos… at least hinted he was hot. That would explain why Duclos didn’t want to admit loaning him his car… if he did loan it to him to drive to the Encanto.”
    “What about your… friend? Carla, you said her name is.”
    “Brett’s friend,” Shayne corrected him. “No reason for her to know about this either, I guess.” He paused, sipping his drink and pondering the problem.
    “There’s been another development since I saw you. She was waiting at my place when I got home. Frightened half out of her wits. She had a telephone call… soon after that newscast which she hadn’t even heard. Some guy who was a complete stranger, but appeared to know that Al had been to see her tonight. He demanded to know what she and I had done with Al, and then demanded ten thousand bucks… in cash… tonight… for which he offered to sell her something which he claimed Al had given him for safe-keeping before he went to see her.”
    “What kind of a something?”
    “She insists she hasn’t any idea what he was talking about. Can’t even guess. But he is in a position to put her and her daughter on the spot in connection with Al’s death, and she’s frantic to pay him the money to keep his mouth shut.”
    He looked at his watch and added grimly, “I’m on my way to make the pay-off in about twenty minutes.”
    “You’re passing over ten grand?” asked Rourke incredulously.
    Shayne grinned wolfishly. “Not quite that much. She had only a thousand in cash that she’d brought from California for expenses. She gave me that, and her IOU for the balance. I’m supposed to be picking it up from you right now.”
    “What do you intend to do?”
    “I’m not sure,” Shayne said cautiously. “I want to talk to the guy… try to find out what Al left with him for safe-keeping that he thinks is worth ten thousand.”
    “Do you think it could be the other guy in the bank robbery?” asked Rourke eagerly. “If Al wasn’t drowned in the river, maybe the other one wasn’t either.”
    Shayne said doubtfully, “Could be.” He tossed off the rest of his drink with a grimace.
    Rourke’s telephone rang. The reporter reached out a long arm and scooped it up. He said, “Rourke,” and listened, twisting his head to nestle the receiver between his ear and shoulder while he got notebook and pencil from his pocket and began jotting down notes, mumbling, “Yeh,” and “I got it,” now and then.
    Finally he said, “Thanks for calling me, Joe. It may be damned important.” He hung up and shook his head at the detective who had gotten up and was preparing to leave.
    “You got to hear this, Mike. A follow-up on the Alabama bank robbery. Just came over the wire and one of the boys at the office knew I was checking on it tonight, and called me. Remember the bank teller they took for a hostage? Harvey Giles. He’s been murdered.”
    Shayne sank back into his chair and said, “Give it to me fast.”
    “Body was discovered in his rooming house tonight. He’d been dead at least twelve hours. Beaten to death… after being brutally tortured from all available evidence. A real professional job.” Rourke glanced down at his notes, compressing his lips. “Several fingernails torn out by the roots. Cigarette burns around his eyes and in his ears.”
    “Do they tie it in with the bank robbery?”
    “Only by guess and by inference. No other motive known. Seems that Harvey Giles was a pretty innocuous sort. Young bachelor. Model citizen. Pillar of the church and the community. Teller of the bank at twenty-six, and probably drawing a fat salary of three thousand bucks a year.”
    “Let’s see… what was the time-table? On the robbery and then this killing.”
    “Well, the bank job was pulled Thursday afternoon. Giles turned up Thursday night a little the worse for wear.” Rourke glanced at his notes again. “He came to work at the bank Friday morning, and they sent him home at noon… told him to take a long week-end rest and come back to work Monday morning. Quite a local hero, I guess. He lived alone apparently. Yesterday was Saturday, and no one missed him. Until along in the evening when his landlady realized he hadn’t shown up all day and went to his room and knocked on the door without getting any response. They broke the door down finally, and found him there.”
    “Dead for twelve hours or more,” muttered Shayne. “That means the job was done on him some time Friday night.”
    “That’s right. What do you make of it, Mike?”
    “Right now, I don’t know enough to make anything out of it,” Shayne confessed wryly. “The woman driver of the getaway car vanished with the bank loot Thursday afternoon after ditching him in a deserted spot. Al Newman and a pal disappear in a river Thursday afternoon, supposedly drowned… and we have Al turning up in Miami Saturday and holing up at his sister’s house… discovering from a story on the society page of your paper that his wife and daughter are in town at the Encanto Hotel. For the first time, perhaps, he discovers that his wife whom he deserted long ago is a Hollywood script writer with money in the bank… and the daughter whom he has never seen is engaged to marry a recently elected State Senator.
    “So, Al goes calling.” Shayne stopped and frowned. “Thus far it all fits together. He’s on the lam and hiding out from the law. Probably broke. He could expect Carla to give him a stake in order to keep him out of her hair and see that the wedding isn’t disrupted.
    “But things go wrong at the Encanto, and he walks in on Vicky before her mother gets here from Hollywood… and he ends up with a row of Twenty-Five bullets in his belly.
    “All this makes sense, Tim. But what about the telephone call Carla got? What in hell did Al have in his possession that someone else now thinks is worth ten grand to Carla?”
    “Hasn’t she any idea?”
    Shayne shook his head. “She says not.” He glanced at his watch. “That’s what I intend to find out in about ten minutes when I’m due to meet the guy.”
    “Whereabouts, Mike?”
    Without rancor, Shayne said, “None of your goddamned business, Tim. I can handle it without the Press being present.” He got up slowly, a preoccupied expression on his face, ragged red eyebrows drawing low beneath his ridged forehead.
    “I don’t know how things will work out, Tim. But I suggest you remain partially sober, and I may dump a front-page story in your lap. Be in the lobby of the Encanto Hotel thirty minutes from now,” he said flatly.
    “Just be there, Tim. I don’t know how things will work out. Wait in the lobby for half an hour, and if I don’t show up you come back and go to bed like a good little boy. Forget all this stuff tonight.”
    Shayne got up for the second time and moved decisively toward the door.
    “Okay?”
    In a troubled voice, Rourke said, “Okay. But, Mike. Do you know what you’re walking into?”
    With his hand on the doorknob, Michael Shayne turned his head and grinned delightedly at his old friend. “Hell, no! What would be the fun of living, if you knew what was going to happen? Be seeing you… some time.” He went out and pulled the door firmly shut behind him.

14

    The moon and the stars were bright in the tropical sky as Michael Shayne drove north on Biscayne Boulevard to keep his rendezvous with George Duclos. He wasn’t exactly acquainted with 64th Terrace, but knew it must be one of the short streets between the boulevard and the bay, either north or south of 64th Street. The section was not closely built-up, and at this time of night the dead-end street should be completely deserted, a perfect spot for the meeting that had been arranged.
    As he drove, Shayne went over and over in his mind the information that he had just picked up from the News reporter. It didn’t give him much clue as to what to expect when he met Duclos who expected him to turn over ten thousand in cash for something which had belonged to the dead man. Again, he wondered if Duclos was aware that Al was dead. About the only way he could know that was for him to have discovered the body of his brother-in-law in the trunk of his car.
    Would Duclos have remained quiet if he had made that discovery? Certainly, he would have got rid of it fast. In that case the real object of Shayne’s trip to 64th Terrace was probably worthless. If the body was already safely disposed of, there was no need to bother further with Duclos or his Ford. At this point, Shayne wasn’t particularly worried about Duclos going to the police. Not if he had already found the body and gotten rid of it. That put him in just as deep as Shayne.
    On the other hand, Duclos might not have the slightest idea what had happened to the bank robber and simply be taking a chance on picking up a wad of cash by selling something that belonged to Al. If he did know about the Alabama deal and how badly Al was wanted, he might guess that Al had just started running when something went wrong at the Encanto and his meeting with his wife, and reason that he might as well cash in on it if he could.
    Shayne sighed and shrugged and put all those questions out of his mind as he neared 64th. All he could do was to play it by ear, as he had so often played his hunches in the past. One thing in his favor was that Duclos wouldn’t be expecting Mike Shayne to bring the money. He was looking for a Mr. Jones, and wouldn’t be anticipating trouble.
    Shayne slowed his car and got over into the right lane and watched the street signs. 64th Terrace was a narrow strip of blacktop leading toward the bay with a thick, trimmed hedge of hibiscus on the left bordering a large estate, and with scrub palmettos on the right. There were no street lights east of the boulevard. There was a small house on the corner as Shayne turned into the lane, and his headlights picked out another house two hundred feet ahead on the right. Both were dark and silent.
    He drove past them and switched on his bright lights to disclose a guard railing across the top of the bluff where the road ended, with a turning place in front of it for cars. There was no Ford parked there, no car or human being in sight. He made a circle in front of the railing, stopped his car on the right-hand side against the hedge headed out for a quick getaway if necessary, then switched off his motor and lights.
    He lit a cigarette and looked at his watch in the match flame and saw it had been exactly forty-seven minutes since he had talked to Duclos on the telephone.
    The man was two minutes late.
    Shayne unlatched the door on his side so that it remained closed but swung free, made himself relax behind the steering wheel and drag deeply on his cigarette.
    A lot of things might have delayed Duclos a few minutes. Or he might be cagily parked back on the boulevard watching the intersection to make sure that only one car with one man in it turned in and parked at the dead-end. That would be a sensible precaution for the man to take under the circumstances even if he didn’t anticipate any trouble from Mr. Jones.
    Sitting in the front seat with his car facing out, Shayne watched each infrequent car approach the intersection from both north and south, wondering which one would slow down, which one would make the turn in toward him.
    He finished his cigarette and continued to wait, and no car slowed or turned in. His belly muscles were beginning to tighten as though a giant hand was gripping his guts, and he thought about Duclos having an accident on his way to the rendezvous, of the Ford getting a flat tire and pulling off the road to change it and a ubiquitous police cruiser drawing up behind to politely offer assistance.
    Beads of sweat broke out on his corrugated forehead although the night breeze was cool, and he lit another cigarette and checked his watch again.
    He had been waiting nine minutes. Parked here like a sitting duck if a police car were to suddenly turn into the narrow lane in front of him.
    He’d finish this last cigarette, he decided. Smoke it down to a short butt. If Duclos hadn’t showed by that time…
    He heard a rustling in the hibiscus hedge at his right. He turned his head slowly and saw the bulky figure of a man coming through the shrubbery. He drew deeply on his cigarette to make a little pinpoint of light in the night, and waited.
    The man stopped six feet from the car and asked cautiously, “Is that Jones?”
    It was George Duclos’s voice.
    Shayne said, “Yeh. How’d you slip up on me like that?”
    The bastard, he thought angrily. Where’s the Ford? He’s parked it some place and come up on foot. I’ve got to find that Ford.
    He had the brim of his Panama hat pulled low over his face and he sat very still as Duclos circled the car to come up on the left side. The man had seen him only once, at the police station, and fleetingly. Shayne felt he had a good chance to pass unrecognized if he stayed in the car and out of the moonlight.
    Duclos chuckled hoarsely as he came up close to the open window. “I wanted to make sure you came alone and weren’t going to try any tricks. You got the money?”
    Shayne said, “I’ve got it, but Goddamn it, I don’t like this. I’d like to know you’re alone, too. Where’s your car parked?”
    “What’s that to you?” Duclos was unexpectedly belligerent and Shayne wondered briefly whether he had any particular reason for keeping his car concealed.
    He said angrily, “I drove up here open and aboveboard, fair and square. I just don’t like you hiding out on me and sneaking up like this. That’s all. How do I know you didn’t bring a couple of cops and have got them hidden out, too?”
    “What in hell would I want with cops? All I want is the cash. Ten grand, huh? Let’s see the color of it.” He extended his hand eagerly in the moonlight
    “Not so fast. I’m not passing over any money until I know this is on the up and up. Where did you say you left your car?”
    “I don’t see what that’s got to do with you.”
    “I’m asking you, Goddamn it,” Shayne said savagely. “Maybe you’re trying to pull a fast one. Maybe I’ll just get the hell on out of here and take the money with me.” He leaned forward and reached down for the ignition key.
    “Hey. Don’t be stupid. What the hell? I parked my car on the next road up and cut across the lawn to get here. That satisfy you?”
    “I guess so,” Shayne grumbled. “I was supposed to pick something up for the money.”
    “Sure. I got it right here. It’s no good to me as you know damned well.” Duclos reached up to his left shirt pocket and felt inside.
    Shayne braced himself with his left foot against the unlatched door and shoved with all his strength. It swung on its hinges and knocked Duclos backward and he lost his footing and went down with flailing arms.
    Shayne catapulted through the open door and was on top of him instantly, driving a short, sledgehammer blow to the point of his jaw as he half sat up.
    He sank back on the ground without a sound and lay spread-eagled, mouth gaping and running blood from one corner, eyes open and glazed in the moonlight.
    Shayne knelt beside him and pried open the fingers of the hand that had reached into his shirt pocket.
    He extracted a small rectangle of cardboard and rocked back on his heels to examine it with puzzled interest. It appeared to be half of a railroad baggage claim check, torn irregularly across the middle.
    Shayne turned it over and over in his hands, frowning at it in complete bewilderment, then thrust it in his pocket and felt Duclos’s pulse.
    It was irregular but strong, and the man was breathing stertorously.
    Shayne got up and got his keys from the ignition, went behind his car and opened the trunk, and then back to Duclos to drag the unconscious man around and bundle him inside.
    He slammed the lid shut, hurried around and got in and started the motor. He turned on his dim lights and drove back to the boulevard, turned north one block and east again, found Duclos’s Ford parked beside the road where the man had said it would be.
    He drew up behind it and switched off his lights and motor, unlocked his trunk and leaned inside to go through the man’s pockets for his car keys.
    He was sardonically conscious of holding his breath as he approached the back of the Ford and tried one key in the lock. It didn’t go in, but the next one he tried unlocked the trunk.
    He hesitated and exhaled a long breath before lifting the lid. This was the pay-off. If the trunk was empty…
    It wasn’t. The old Shayne luck was still riding on his shoulders tonight. The moonlight showed the blanket-wrapped body of Al Donlin… or Newman… exactly as he had placed it there hours before.
    He leaned in and dragged it out, finding it stiff as a board, now, with rigor mortis, hoisted it awkwardly onto his shoulder and carried it to the rear of his car where he propped it against the fender.
    Then he dragged Duclos out and deposited him on the ground, put the blanketed body inside in his place and finally slammed the lid of the trunk shut
    Thank God, that was done. He had the body back in his own possession, securely locked up. Now, if he didn’t have another collision, and encounter a couple more smart cops who didn’t have anything better to do than badger innocent motorists…
    To hell with such unpleasant thoughts!
    He straightened up and looked down thoughtfully at the still unconscious Duclos. He’d be coming out of it in a little while. Shayne had only hit him once, after all.
    After briefly considering the situation, he stooped and got hold of his ankles, dragged him back to the rear of his own car and shoved him into the trunk where the stiff had been. He slammed it shut and looked down at the Ford keys in his hand, then drew back his arm and threw them as hard as he could over the hedge by the side of the road.
    That would take care of George Duclos for a time. Until he decided what he wanted to do with the guy. Right now he didn’t know. He just hoped fervently that he would never have to look at his face again.
    He got in his car and backed away, made a U-Turn back to the Boulevard, and proceeded southward at a discreet speed toward the city.

15

    Approaching the Encanto Hotel, Shayne turned off the Boulevard a block north, and circled about so he approached the front entrance to the hotel. He drove very slowly, alert for the presence of any police cars in the street or any evidence of unusual activity in the lobby. He passed Timothy Rourke’s car parked at the curb, and saw nothing out of order as he cruised by. The doorman was not even in evidence at this early morning hour, and he made the turn into the alley beside the hotel without being noticed so far as he could determine.
    He pulled in close to the building and shut off his headlights, stopped in front of the steps leading down to the closed door. He shut off his ignition and sat there for a moment, and the alley was just as silent and deserted as it had been a few hours previously when he had last visited it.
    He got out and went down to the door which he had left locked behind him, tried the knob and found it still locked. He bent to study the keyhole while he got a well-loaded key ring from his pocket, selected one slender key and tried it, then another and another.
    The third key went in smoothly and turned the lock. Shayne opened the door cautiously onto the square room and found the overhead light was out and the room empty. Sufficient illumination came from the cage of the service elevator across the room, the doors of which stood invitingly open.
    Shayne went up the steps swiftly and unlocked his trunk, got the body out again and carried it down to the cage where he propped it up in one corner. He hurried back to pull the outer door shut, then got into the elevator with the body, released the HOLD button and pressed the one marked 8.
    The elevator went up slowly and Shayne’s face was grim as he waited for it to stop. It felt uncomfortably crowded in the confines of the small cage. He was beginning to feel a definite aversion toward the presence of the dead man. He was going to be damned glad to get rid of him once and for all.
    The cage stopped on the 8th floor and the doors automatically opened. Shayne pushed the HOLD button, looked out cautiously to see that the corridor was empty.
    He had the key to Room 810 in his hand as he stepped out and went toward the door. He inserted it soundlessly and turned it with a tiny click, then opened the door.
    There was no light on in the sitting room of the suite. From the light in the hallway behind him. Shayne could see that the bedroom door directly opposite him was tightly closed, and the sitting room looked exactly as it had before.
    He turned back swiftly without turning on a light inside, retrieved the dead man from the elevator and carried him back to the sitting room.
    Inside, he laid the body down on the carpeted floor, and rolled it over and over to disengage the hotel blanket. He straightened up, leaving the stiff body lying in the middle of the floor, lying on its side, then gathered up the blanket, and folded it carefully, tossed it carelessly over the foot of the sofa as though someone had laid it there in case his feet got cold.
    There had been no sound from the room beyond the closed door.
    Shayne went out and closed the door quietly behind him. He long-legged it down the hall to the open elevator, reached inside and released the HOLD button and stepped back to let the doors slide shut. Then he strolled past 810 and around the corner to the passenger elevators and pressed the DOWN button.
    When an empty car stopped, he got in and told the sleepy-eyed operator, “Three, please.”
    On the third floor he got out and went around the corner again, back to the service elevator shaft. He pushed the button there and waited for the car to come down, felt a vast and flooding sense of relief when the doors opened to disclose the empty car.
    He had now covered his tracks as well as he possibly could, and he turned back as the doors automatically closed behind him.
    He was lucky enough to get another operator this time, and the man didn’t even glance at him as he stepped in and said briskly, “Lobby, please.”
    The big lobby was almost empty when he stepped out. Two men stood near the front door talking together, and Shayne felt a little knot of unease form in his stomach when he recognized the hotel detective, John Russco, talking to Timothy Rourke.
    Both of them looked over and saw him get out of the elevator, and both watched him curiously and in silence as he approached them.
    Russco said heartily, “Mike Shayne, by all that’s holy!” and held out a big hand to him exactly as though they hadn’t seen each other for weeks or months.
    Shayne shook hands with him and said, “Hi, John,” while Rourke observed the passage between them with a faintly ironic smile.
    “Funny to see you here, Mike,” Russco said effusively. “Tim was just asking if I’d seen you around tonight. You two aren’t cooking something up behind my back, are you?”
    “Why, no,” Shayne told him blandly. “Nothing like that. You got nothing to hide from the Press, have you?”
    “Of course not,” Russco replied too quickly. “Not a damned thing happening around here tonight. Not even a good girlie party I can send you two lechers up to.”
    “Tim and I do have a little business to discuss,” Shayne told him pointedly, taking the reporter’s arm and drawing him away.
    The hotel detective grinned weakly and said, “Yeh… well… don’t take any wooden nickles,” turned his back and sauntered away.
    “Two things,” Shayne said rapidly when Russco was safely out of earshot. “You stick here, Tim. Use the phone booth and call an anonymous tip into headquarters. Have a radio car investigate a parked Ford on 64th Street between the boulevard and the bay. Registration in the name of George Duclos. And, Tim, tell them to be sure and check into the trunk of the car even if they have to break the lock and force it to get in.”
    “Good God, Mike,” breathed Rourke uneasily. “I thought the last thing in the world you wanted was to have the cops look in that trunk.”
    “Things are different,” Shayne told him. “Make that call right away… and you might even tell them it has some connection with the Alabama bank robbery, just to put them on the right track. Then make another call to headquarters using your own name. Get Homicide and tell them you’ve got an anonymous tip that something important is due to break at the Encanto Hotel. Get a couple of plainclothes dicks over here and have them wait inconspicuously here in the lobby while you hang around out in the entrance foyer. If I do come back here I don’t want to show in the deal at all.”
    “What the hell kind of brew are you cooking up, Mike?”
    “I’m not quite sure. I think I’m going to light a fire and start things boiling over. Before I forget it, Tim. You’d better have this. Make use of it if things break that way.”
    He thrust his hand in his pocket and pulled out the folded sheets of hotel paper containing the handwritten murder confession signed “Vicky,” and pushed them into Rourke’s hand.
    The reporter took them with a puzzled frown. “What is it? You’re leaving me ’way out on a limb…”
    “You can catch up on your reading matter after you make those two telephone calls,” Shayne told him. “You know all you need to know… and none of this came from me. You haven’t seen me since you drove me away from headquarters after I got loose on that stolen car rap.”
    He squeezed Rourke’s shoulder tightly and hurried out through the front doors and around the hotel to the alley.
    His car stood where he had left it. He got in and pulled away fast and drove directly to his hotel where he parked on the side as before and climbed the stairs to the second floor.
    His room was still lighted, and again he unlocked the door and walked in with a reassuring grin for the woman he had left sitting there more than an hour before.
    She didn’t jump to her feet this time. She sat erect, staring at him with frightened eyes which managed to look hopeful at the same time.
    “Is everything all right?” she asked tremulously. “Did you get the money for him? Who was he, Mike? What happened? I’ve been sitting here wondering and frightened and… praying, I guess. Thinking about all the things that could go wrong.”
    “Nothing went wrong,” Shayne told her. “He was just a guy on the make. He won’t bother you with any more telephone calls.”
    “Oh, God. Is it really over? Can I relax now?”
    “Sure. Relax,” he told her comfortingly. “Maybe you’d like to call Vicky and tell her it’s okay. Use the phone, if you want to.”
    “Why should I… I’ll just waken her. She isn’t worried, Mike. I told you she went off to sleep thinking everything was absolutely all right. She doesn’t even know I’m gone.”
    “That’s right,” he said absently. “Sure. You’re right, of course. No need to bother her with a phone call. Better for you to go on back right away and she need never know any of this has happened.”
    “What did happen?” she asked nervously, lacing her fingers together in her lap. “What did he have, Mike? Whatever it was he said belonged to Al and that he thought was worth all that money? I’ve been thinking and racking my brains all the time you were gone. I just can’t imagine.”
    “Oh, that,” he said casually. “I don’t understand that part of it yet. But he seemed to think it was important and so I played along and didn’t admit we didn’t have the slightest idea what he was talking about.”
    “Did you get it? What was it?”
    “Oh, I got it all right. Maybe it’ll mean something to you although I don’t see how it can, if you’ve been out of touch with Al all these years.”
    “What is it? I’m consumed with curiosity.” Shayne shrugged and reached in his pocket and withdrew the torn piece of cardboard he had taken from Duclos’s clenched fist. He crossed over to her and held it out, watching her face carefully as she took it and turned it over and over in her hands.
    A puzzled frown corrugated her smooth forehead. “It looks like… well, it looks as though it should be familiar. I mean…”
    “I think I know what you mean,” Shayne agreed quietly. “Isn’t it half of a torn claim check for baggage?”
    “Of course.” She looked up at him with brighteyed expectancy. “But why just half of it, Mike? What good’s half to anyone?”
    “Nothing that I can see,” he responded broodingly. “Unless he had the other half to match up with it. Then he’d have to know where it was checked before he could claim whatever it represents.” He held out his hand for the piece of cardboard, and after a moment’s hesitation she dropped it into his palm reluctantly.
    He said cheerfully, “I’ll hold onto it, if you like. Maybe something will come up in the future that will explain what it’s all about.”
    She laughed nervously. “After all, it does belong to me, Mike. I paid for it. That is… it was my money you used. Don’t you think I ought to have it… just for a souvenir at least?”
    “Well, sure. It’s no good to me. I just thought…” Shayne shrugged his broad shoulders and handed it back to her. “As you say, I certainly haven’t any claim on it. I didn’t spend any of my money…
    “I know most of the cash actually was yours, Mike,” she said, instantly contrite, although her fingers closed tightly over the cardboard. “But it was just a temporary loan. You’ve got my IOU, you know, if I try to renege on paying it.”
    Shayne said, “Yeh. I know,” his gaunt features expressionless. He stepped back and said, “Wouldn’t you like to get back to the hotel now? If your daughter should wake up and find you gone…?”
    “Oh, yes. I must get back.” She stood up, smoothing down her dress and brushing cigarette ashes from the front of it.
    Shayne stooped down to pick up her handbag from the floor beside the chair. With his back half-turned to her, he unsnapped it and dropped her room-key inside. Then he held it out, saying:
    “Don’t forget your bag. I’ll drive you back.”
    She accepted it carelessly. “You don’t have to do that. I’m sure I can get a taxi.”
    “I left my car on the street,” he told her. “Have to put it in the garage for the night anyhow.” He took her elbow and turned her toward the door.
    “How about an invitation to Vicky’s wedding this afternoon?”
    “Oh, yes, Mike. Do come by all means. I’ll have her call you and give you a formal invitation as soon as she wakes up in the morning.”
    He said, “That will be nice,” and held the door open for her to go out. He took her arm and led her down the hall past the elevator, explaining, “We can walk down one flight and go out a side door to my car.”
    He opened the car door for her and helped her in, then went around and got under the wheel beside her, made a U-Turn and started in the direction of the Encanto Hotel.
    She snuggled against him and sighed. “I’ll never be able to thank you properly. But I hope you’ll let me try… after Vicky’s off on her honeymoon, perhaps?”
    Shayne said, “I’ve got a feeling you could make a good try, all right. We’ll keep that date open, huh?”
    She murmured, “Oh, yes,” and then sat up straight beside him suddenly. “Mike! I forgot. What about Al? You said his body was still locked in the trunk of his brother-in-law’s car and if it was found there that the police would know you moved it. What about that?”
    “I took care of that, too,” Shayne told her. “It’s not locked in the car any more. It’s in a perfectly safe place where the police can’t possibly connect me with it.”
    “Oh, I’m glad. Then you won’t get in any trouble for helping me?”
    “I’m absolutely in the clear… I hope,” he told her cheerfully.
    He turned into the block in front of the Encanto Hotel, and slowed down in front of the canopied entrance. The doorman still wasn’t on duty, but Shayne saw the gangling figure of Timothy Rourke leaning against the wall inside the foyer just beyond the outer doors.
    He leaped out to go around and open the door for her, helped her out and opened the hotel door, avoiding looking at Rourke. He said, “You’d better go up alone. No use us being seen here together,” and she smiled gratefully at him and went into the lobby toward the elevators.
    Shayne stepped close to the reporter and asked, “Everything all set?”
    “Yep. Couple of dicks inside. Was that…?”
    Shayne said swiftly, “Go on in and the three of you follow her up to number Eight-Ten. Be right behind her when she walks into the room, and you can take it from there.”
    “What about you, Mike. Where’ll you be?”
    “In bed,” said Shayne emphatically. “This is your show, Tim. I don’t know one damned thing about anything that’s happened tonight.”
    He went out fast and got in his car, drove to the Boulevard and north to the next hotel on the bay front, where he went in and registered as J. D. Brewster from Sarasota. He got a room-key from the clerk and went up and piled into bed.
    He fell into dreamless sleep almost at once.

16

    For many years Michael Shayne had had a standing invitation to have Sunday morning breakfast with his brown-eyed secretary in her Miami apartment.
    On this Sunday morning when he turned up at ten o’clock, Lucy Hamilton seemed surprised to see him, and greeted him with a frown and an anxious question that was almost wifely:
    “Where have you been all night, Michael? I’ve been worried and wondering what on earth had happened.”
    He yawned and dropped a light kiss on the top of her head. “I’ve been sleeping. Is that any crime?”
    “But where have you been sleeping? Not in your own bed. That’s certain.”
    “Hey, now,” he protested good-naturedly. “Have you started checking up on my sleeping habits, Lucy?”
    She stepped back from him, biting her underlip. “Chief Will Gentry woke me up from a sound sleep about four o’clock,” she informed him coldly, “to ask if I knew where you were. He sounded angry and very disturbed when I assured him I had no idea. He made me promise that, if you did contact me, I would let him know at once. Then Tim Rourke called again about seven o’clock to ask the same question. He said your hotel reported you had gone out about midnight and hadn’t returned, and that all hell was popping. What sort of hell, Michael?”
    He shrugged and countered lightly, “How should I know? I was sound asleep and know nothing about such Saturday night goings-on. Is the coffee hot?”
    “Of course. Even though I didn’t know whether you were in town or not.” She turned toward her kitchenette with pursed lips. “With or without?”
    “With… on the first one, Angel.” He yawned mightily again and dropped down on one end of the sofa. He lit a cigarette and sniffed happily when she brought him a mug of strong black coffee heavily laced with cognac.
    Her buzzer sounded from the downstairs door of the apartment as she set the coffee royal in front of him, and she murmured, “Who on earth can that be?”
    She went to the speaking tube at the door, and in a moment he heard her say, “Of course, Tim. He just showed up and he’s sitting here swilling brandy and coffee.” She pressed the button that released the catch below, opened her own door wide and came back to tell her employer unnecessarily, “That’s Tim. He’s coming up.”
    Shayne said, “I wonder what’s bugging him so early this morning,” and took a sip of the hot liquid.
    Timothy Rourke came in a moment later, looking dishevelled and sleepy, but with an expression on his face like that of a cat that has swallowed the canary. “Where the devil have you been hiding out, Mike?”
    “I haven’t been hiding out. I just thought I’d get a better night’s sleep if I weren’t available for questioning. Sit down, Tim. You look as though you could stand a cup of Lucy’s excellent coffee.”
    “My God, can I? With a good slug of bourbon in it, honey?” he appealed to Lucy. “Damn you, Mike. I haven’t been to bed yet. I had to cover up all over the place…”
    Shayne shook his head warningly at him as Lucy came back with another mug of steaming coffee for the reporter.
    “Neither Lucy nor I have the faintest idea what all this furor is about, except Will Gentry woke her up at four o’clock trying to locate me. What for, Tim? What am I supposed to have done?”
    Rourke shook his head helplessly, took a sip of hot coffee and sputtered over it. “It’s the damnedest story. I guess we’ll never get the whole straight of it.”
    “Relax and tell us all about it,” Shayne urged him. “You have my curiosity aroused.”
    Rourke said, “Yeh,” and lit a cigarette while he composed his thoughts. “It began about three o’clock this morning when I got a tip there was a dead man in a room at the Encanto Hotel. I called a couple of homicide cops and we went up to room eight-ten. There was a woman having hysterics all over the place and there was a corpse on the floor. Very dead from five small caliber bullets. Stiff as a board. He’d been dead for hours. I recognized his ugly face right away from a newspaper picture. Name of Al Newman. Wanted for bank robbery and murder in Alabama a couple of days ago. You know,” he said to Shayne, raised his eyebrows. “That Eureka bank job. Shot one of the bank officials in cold blood and got away with forty grand… only the woman get-away driver snatched the loot and drove off leaving her two male companions behind.”
    Shayne said thoughtfully, “I remember reading something about it. Didn’t she drive off with a hostage who was later released? One of the bank tellers?”
    “That’s right. So here was this Al Newman dead in the woman’s hotel room, and her in a tizzy swearing she had no idea how he’d got there and that she’d been out drinking with Mike Shayne all evening, and to get him and ask him about it.”
    “I’ll be damned!” said Shayne in great surprise. “Who was she?”
    “She was registered at the hotel under the name of Mrs. Rose Hughes. Turned out her name is actually Vergie Powers. An actress. Used to do bit parts in Hollywood movies. In fact, she played in some of your shows, Mike. We figured later that’s how she knew your name and used it in a pinch.”
    “Such is fame,” marveled Shayne. “You tell Lucy I wasn’t out drinking with an actress all evening, Tim. You can vouch for me until at least two o’clock.”
    “That’s right. Well, it appeared later that she was just making up the first wild story that came into her mind. Because she was actually Al Newman’s girl-friend. Had been shacked up with him in Alabama while they cased the bank job… and she was the driver of the get-away car that snatched the bank loot and left Al to face the consequences behind her. She admitted she thought he had been killed in the chase that followed, and was completely surprised when he turned up in Miami tonight demanding his share of the money.”
    “So she killed him?”
    “She hasn’t actually admitted it, but she triggered him, all right. Funny thing. I found a confession in the room on hotel stationery signed ‘Vicky.’ But it was written in her handwriting. She tried to explain that with another fantastic story about her daughter named Vicky being there and doing the actual shooting, but she couldn’t produce any daughter or evidence of one, so that didn’t come off.”
    Shayne said gravely, “You did have yourself quite a time.”
    “That’s not half of it. Another thing I recognized about Al Newman was that he has a married sister in Miami named Duclos.”
    “Duclos?” Shayne sat up and stared at Rourke as though he couldn’t believe his ears. “Not George Duclos?” he pleaded. “Not the guy who accused me of stealing his Ford earlier in the night?”
    “What on earth, Michael?” demanded Lucy, wide-eyed and excited. “You stole a car?”
    “It was all a mistake,” he told her. “A comedy of errors. I’ll tell you about it later.”
    “Yeh. That same guy,” Tim Rourke told him. “So there was another funny thing. Just before we found the body the police had investigated an anonymous tip and found Duclos locked up in the trunk of his own car out in the Northeast section. He’d been knocked out, and said a couple of strange men had assaulted him and locked him in his own trunk.
    “They had him at Headquarters when we brought the Powers woman in, and while neither of them appeared to know the other, when he was questioned about Newman he admitted the fellow had turned up yesterday, told him he was hot and that he had to contact a woman registered at the Encanto as Mrs. Rose Hughes and collect forty grand from her. And he gave Duclos the torn half of a baggage check which he claimed he had got from the bank teller in Eureka who was in on the robbery with the gang and who admitted under torture that he and Vergie had planned all along to ditch the other two in front of the bank and take off with the loot.
    “She was frantically denying everything at that point, but a search of her handbag turned up two halves of a railroad-baggage claim check at the FEC station. It reclaimed a suitcase that held approximately forty thousand dollars of the bank money… and she broke down and admitted everything when confronted with that.”
    “How had she gotten hold of the second half of the claim check if Newman had left it with Duclos for safekeeping when he went to see her?” asked Lucy.
    “That’s another part of the whole mixed-up story,” admitted Rourke with a glance at Shayne. “You see, when Duclos first came into the picture… and with Mike’s name having been mentioned by Vergie in the beginning as her drinking companion… the cops remembered that Mike had been picked up driving Duclos’s stolen Ford earlier in the night, and that’s when Will Gentry began trying to find Mike to ask him what he knew about all this.” Rourke paused in his recital to draw a long breath and get his thoughts in order.
    “As I said, when they found the suitcase with the money in it, Vergie admitted she and the bank teller had driven straight into Montgomery that day and transferred the money into a suitcase, then she bought a ticket to Miami and they checked the suitcase on her ticket. Neither of them wholly trusting the other, they tore the claim check in two and he went back to Eureka to brazen it out, planning to meet her in Miami Saturday night at the Encanto where she would be registered as Mrs. Hughes, and they’d get the money and split it.
    “It was the bank teller, Harvey Giles, who she was expecting to turn up at her room last night. She didn’t know that Al Newman had stayed alive in Alabama, that he had got back to Giles, tortured the poor guy and got his half of the baggage check and then killed him.
    “So she was totally surprised when Duclos called her up and offered to sell half of the check for ten thousand dollars, and she claimed she went to Mike Shayne and propositioned him to accept one thousand in cash and her IOU for the other nine… to meet Duclos and pick up the check.
    “Duclos confirmed her story to a certain extent. He admitted phoning her and asking for ten thousand, and arranged to meet a certain Mr. Jones to close the deal. He claimed he did meet Mr. Jones out there where he parked his car… that Jones knocked him unconscious and stole half of the claim check and locked him up in the trunk of his own car.”
    Rourke paused and shrugged his shoulders cynically. “By that time, no one knew exactly what was what. Mike wasn’t available to answer any questions. And, actually, it didn’t seem to matter a hell of a lot.
    “We had a dead bank robber who had murdered twice. And we had his woman accomplice who’d burned him. And Duclos, who’ll draw a prison term as accessory after the fact. Under the circumstances…” He turned in his chair and addressed Shayne directly, “I think Will Gentry is inclined to doubt whether you had anything to do with the whole deal at all. There’s no positive evidence to tie you into any of it. Unless you want to come in voluntarily and explain what in hell you were doing last night.”
    Michael Shayne shook his head calmly at the question in Rourke’s voice. “It seems to me you and the cops did a good job without any assist from me at all. Let’s leave it that way.”
    “Michael Shayne!” said Lucy Hamilton fiercely. “You’re the world’s most irritating man. What were you doing all last night? Stealing cars and all.”
    Shayne grinned at her and held out his empty coffee mug. “How about a straight shot of coffee this time? And then how about whipping up some scrambled eggs… with maybe some sausage poached in wine to start, and then fried that lovely golden brown the way you do them? Sound good to you, Tim?”
    “Wonderful. About three eggs for me, Lucy.”
    “All right, you two.” She got up with an air of offended dignity which did not fool either of them. She took Shayne’s empty mug and headed for the kitchen with her firm chin uptilted. “Keep your secrets and see if I care.”
    While she was refilling Shayne’s mug, Rourke asked him suddenly, “When did you first catch on, Mike?”
    “When I saw her IOU and recognized the handwriting as the same as the note she’d given me signed Vicky.”
    Lucy Hamilton came back with another mug of coffee for him, and he caught her hand and detained her as she set it down.
    “How’d you like to go to a wedding, Lucy?”
    “What on earth are you talking about now?”
    “A big social affair on the Beach this afternoon.
    Maybe you read about it in the society section a couple of days ago. A girl named Vicky Andrews who is marrying a state senator. Her mother is a Hollywood script writer.”
    “What are you getting at, Michael? It happens I did read about it, but how on earth do you think we can get an invitation?”
    “Want to bet?” he asked her confidently.
    “No. Not when I see that gleam in your eye.”
    “Call the Encanto Hotel,” he suggested, “and ask for Miss Andrews. I’ll take it from there.”
    She hesitated, not knowing whether to take him seriously or not, and then released her hand from his and went to the telephone stand where she looked up the telephone number. Timothy Rourke sat there finishing his drink and looking mystified while Lucy dialled the hotel number and said crisply, “Miss Andrews, please.”
    She turned and held the receiver out to Shayne, “They’re ringing her.”
    He went across the room and took it from her. He heard a young girl’s voice say, “Hello? Yes?”
    “Is that Vicky?” he asked.
    “Yes, it is,” she caroled. “Who is this?”
    “Could I speak to your mother, Vicky?”
    “Sure. Hey, Mom! It’s for you.” Shayne waited until an older, more resonant voice came over the wire: “Yes?”
    “Is that Carla Andrews?”
    “Why… yes.” The voice sounded doubtful. “Who is this?”
    “I’m Michael Shayne, Miss Andrews. Brett Halliday has told me…”
    “Michael Shayne?” The voice was charged with surprise and happy recognition. “My Gawd! Now my visit to Miami is complete. When I was flying in yesterday, I thought about trying to call you. I’m so happy you did.”
    Shayne said, “I want to ask you one question, Miss Andrews. This may come as a surprise, but think about it for a moment. Do you know… have you ever known… an actress named Vergie Powers?” Evidently Carla Andrews didn’t have to think very long. “Vergie? Sure. I haven’t heard from her for years. But she played some bit parts in a few of your television shows while I was writing some of the scripts. What’s with Vergie? She was a pretty good actress…”
    “She’s one hell of an actress still,” Shayne told her. “It’s a long story, Carla, which I think you’ll enjoy hearing. In the meantime… how difficult is it to get invited to Vicky’s wedding this afternoon?”
    “Michael… Shayne?” Carla’s voice was laughingly affectionate. “We’d be honored. Vicky will be delighted. Do you mean to say you really want to come?”
    “My secretary would love to.”
    “How absolutely wonderful, Mike! Lucy Hamilton! My Gawd! The lines of asinine dialogue I’ve put into her mouth. Of course, you must both come. I’ll apologize to both of you for those lousy scripts the producer made me write.”
    Laughing, Shayne told her, “We’ll be there, Carla. Until this afternoon.”
    He hung up and turned to tell Lucy, “I hope to God you’ve got something appropriate to wear to a very fancy wedding.”
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