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Michael Shayne's Long Chance
She was a full blown brunette in a bandanna halter that just covered the essentials. The non-essentials were very impressive too. This was just the kind of case Shayne could enjoy. Keeping an eye on a dish like this and getting paid for it to boot.
Brett Halliday Michael Shayne’s Long Chance
Michael Shayne’s gray eyes were bleak, his face was set in gaunt lines, his bushy red brows were drawn together over a vertical furrow which had deepened during the past two months. He dumped the last of the junk from the steel filing cabinet into a huge cardboard box. The battered oak desk was cleared of a useless accumulation of papers and what-not, and the small first-floor apartment which had served him as an office for nine years was littered with boxes and wastebaskets, waiting for the trashman.
The spacious corner apartment on the floor above, where he had spent many happy months with Phyllis, was vacant, awaiting new tenants.
Shayne stood in the middle of the muss and rumpled his bristly red hair. Lying atop one of the boxes was a short piece of rubber hose which he had snatched from a girl’s mouth: the Lenham case. A fake kidnap note that had sent a woman into screaming hysteria was torn to bits in the wastebasket: the Hanson case. A pile of telegrams, scribbled notations, the blackjack wrested from Pug Myers that stormy night down on the Florida Keys — relics which had once held such deep significance were now mere rubbish.
There was a butcher knife which he had picked up from the floor of Phyllis Brighton’s bedroom after finding Mrs. Brighton in bed with her throat slit. The knife was sticky with human blood that night, but now it shone clean and keen-edged lying beside the rubber hose in the box marked for a scrap heap.
Shayne’s eyes kept going back to the knife. It marked the beginning of something that was ended.
He swore savagely and swept up a glass of cognac from the desk, took a deep drink and chased it with ice water. It was Monnet cognac, his last carefully guarded bottle. He had been saving it for a special occasion. Well, this was a special occasion. His suitcase was packed. He was saying good-by to Miami, giving up everything he had built over a period of nine years.
He said, “To hell with it,” aloud. He emptied the glass and poured another drink from the squat bottle, then held the bottle up to the light. A little better than half full. Might be enough to get drunk on, if he weren’t sure he would never be able to get drunk again.
The wall telephone shrilled as he set the bottle down. He turned to glower at the faithful instrument which had brought him so much good news and so much bad news during the years.
He lifted the glass of cognac and carried it to the west window, ignoring the insistent ringing of the phone. His right thumb and forefinger gently massaged the lobe of his left ear as he stood gazing at the bright sheen on the gray-purple waters of Biscayne Bay. It was noon, and trade winds waved the fronds of coco-palms and sent tiny ripples shimmering across the water.
The telephone stopped ringing after a while. He sipped the smooth aged cognac slowly and thoughtfully. He listened absently to the elevator stopping at the first floor and heard footsteps in the hallway.
The footsteps stopped at his open door. Shayne stubbornly kept his back turned. His eyes were morose and his jaws were tightly clenched as he stared steadily through the window at the familiar scene.
Timothy Rourke’s voice spoke from the doorway, a determinedly cheerful voice. “Why the hell don’t you answer your phone?”
Without turning his head, Shayne growled, “I didn’t want to be bothered.”
“Getting drunk?” Rourke walked into the room, followed by another man. Rourke stared around the disordered room, his lean face grim. His body had the hard leanness of a racing greyhound; his eyes were intelligent and kindly. He was an old hand on the Miami News, had covered Shayne’s cases for nine years and garnered many scoops.
Shayne said, “I’d get drunk if I could.” He did not turn from the window.
Rourke moved up behind him and clamped his hand on the redhead’s shoulder. “You’re nuts, Mike. Going through all this old stuff — raking up memories.”
Shayne said, “I’m through. I’m going back to New York.”
Rourke’s thin fingers bit into his shoulder. “I brought you a client.”
“I told you I was through.”
“You’re nuts,” Rourke said again, emphatically. “You need to get to work. Hell, Mike, it’s been months since Phyl—”
“I’m getting out of Miami,” Shayne interrupted harshly.
“Sorry,” Rourke said, then went on in a brisk tone. “That’s a good idea, Mike. Get the hell out of town for a while. Now this client—”
“I’m not taking any clients.” Shayne gestured jerkily toward some bits of paper strewn on the floor. “There’s my Florida license.”
“Fair enough.” Tim Rourke grinned. “Precisely why I have brought my friend to you.”
Shayne turned slowly. His eyes were bloodshot and there was a bristle of red beard on his face. He looked past Rourke and met the uneasy eyes of a slight, mild-featured man who wore a pince-nez and a harassed frown. His double-breasted business coat was buttoned tightly, and he wore a stiff collar and a bow tie.
Rourke said, “This is Joe Little, Mike. J. P. Little,” he added, with emphasis on the initials. “Meet Mike Shayne, Joe. He’s just the man you need.”
J. P. Little took a step forward and hesitantly held out his hand. His hand dropped to his side and he closed his thin lips firmly over whatever he planned to say in greeting.
Tim Rourke laughed with false heartiness and said, “Mike’s just a diamond in the rough, Joe.” He turned to Shayne. “Now see here, Mike, Mr. Little has a case that’s made to order. Just the sort of thing you go for — name your own fee and all expenses paid. Right, Joe?” He beamed upon the smaller man.
“I am prepared to pay any fee in moderation,” Mr. Little answered, and his Adam’s apple disappeared for an instant below his stiff collar.
“There you are, Mike. You want to shake the Florida sand out of your shoes. You need a case to take your mind off — things. How does New Orleans strike you?”
Shayne shrugged. “New Orleans is all right.” His tone intimated that New Orleans was the only thing that was all right.
Rourke hastily dumped a pile of rubbish from a chair and shoved it toward his friend, emptied another of a tier of boxes and took it for himself. “Mr. Little is a magazine editor,” he confided to Shayne. “He’s in Miami to interview an author about an important serial.”
Shayne hooked his right hip over a corner of the desk and said, “Honest to God, Tim, I’m not ready to take a case.”
“You can help a friend of mine. At least you can listen to what he has to say, dammit. Go ahead and tell him about it, Joe.”
Mr. Little took off his pince-nez and polished the lenses. His pale-blue eyes squinted at Shayne, then at Rourke. “If Mr. Shayne is not interested—”
“He’ll get interested,” Rourke promised. “Go ahead. I’d like to hear all of it, myself. You’ve given me only a bare outline.”
“Very well.” Mr. Little replaced his glasses and stopped squinting. “It’s about my daughter, Barbara. She’s — I’m afraid she may be in danger — in desperate need of protection.”
“Your daughter is in New Orleans?” Shayne bent forward, then scowled, angered at himself for showing interest.
“Yes. I’d better start at the beginning. You see, Barbara is the reckless type. She is headstrong and willful. I don’t understand her at all.” He made a gesture of defeat with his well-kept hands. “Perhaps it has been my fault for having lost contact with her. Her mother died when she was a baby. I’ve tried to be both mother and father, but — the press of business—” He stopped talking and held his mouth tight for a full minute.
Shayne looked at his watch. “Thus far you’ve managed to tell us you have a headstrong daughter.”
J. P. Little fidgeted in his chair. “It’s difficult to tell you,” he murmured, then continued more firmly. “Barbara is ambitious to be a writer, has been since she was a young girl in her teens. But I’m afraid she isn’t a good writer.” He allowed himself a wan smile. “I’ve discouraged her. She resented that. She felt I was unfairly critical of her work. A month ago she tried to commit suicide. She left a note saying that she was a failure and there was no use going on.” He lifted pale, worried eyes to Shayne’s hard gray gaze.
“How old is your daughter now?” Shayne asked.
“Twenty-three. It was absurd, of course. A failure at twenty-three.” Mr. Little shook his head and sighed deeply.
“Go on about the suicide attempt,” Shayne demanded.
“I had brought her to Miami for a rest. She disappeared the next day. All her personal effects were left behind — with the suicide note.” He nervously smoothed his thinning hair, and added, “It was ghastly for me.”
Rourke, who had straddled the straight chair, was sitting facing its back, his pointed chin nestled in his palms. He said brightly, “You remember, Mike. There was a story in the papers. They dragged a girl’s body from the bay a couple of days later and I went with Joe to the morgue to see if he could identify her. I wrote a hell of a story about it. One of the most human interest things I ever did.”
Shayne shook his head. “A month ago? I wasn’t paying much attention to the papers then.” He turned to J. P. Little. “And it wasn’t your daughter?”
The editor shuddered. “No. I’ll never forget going into that morgue. But — it wasn’t Barbara. A few days later I received a letter from her posted in New Orleans. She had run away on a sudden impulse after discovering that she couldn’t take her own life. She was determined, though, to live as she pleased, she said. She had taken an assumed name and was going to submit her stories under that pseudonym. She had, you see, a feeling that because she was my daughter, other editors were prejudiced against her.”
Shayne was bent forward again, making no effort to hide his interest. His eyes were very bright. He looked at Joseph P. Little, and the ghost of a grin flitted over his gaunt face. He said, “A twenty-three-year-old girl can take care of herself in New Orleans if she’s as headstrong as you say. What the hell are you worrying about? Leave her alone to work out her own destiny. Maybe she can write.”
“Take care of herself — in the French Quarter, Mr. Shayne?” His colorless face flushed.
Shayne laughed shortly. “She can go to hell there if she wants to. Sure. Just like she can on Park Avenue. If you’re looking for a goddam chaperon—”
“Hold it, Mike,” Rourke protested. “You haven’t heard the meat of the story yet.”
“If it’s got any meat, why the hell doesn’t he slice some off?”
Mr. Little drew himself up from a slumped position and sat with stiff dignity. “It’s difficult to discuss, and you don’t make it any easier, Mr. Shayne.” He hesitated, but Shayne made it no easier, so Little continued. “Babs is — I’m afraid she is becoming a drug addict.”
Shayne scowled and rubbed his angular jaw. “What makes you think that?”
“Barbara had a severe illness a few years ago. She was in great pain — agony — for weeks. The attending physician gave her morphine to ease the pain. Later, when she was well again we discovered that she was craving the drug. There was an interval during which I despaired. Then the craving left her, apparently. She lived happily and normally for a time. Only a few months ago I noted recurring symptoms. She had periods of deep depression which were followed by periods of abnormally high spirits and effervescent gaiety.” Mr. Little’s pale, sad eyes looked down at his hands which were clasped tightly.
“That is not unusual for young girls,” Shayne said. “What other proof did you have?”
“Mr. Shayne,” said Mr. Little, “one can easily tell a narcotic user by the eyes, particularly when one is as well acquainted with the user as I am with my daughter. There is a brightness shining in the eyes, but the brightness appears to be covered by a mist. I cannot explain it exactly. It is like a glow shining through a thin fog. Then there is a dullness of the mind, and a nervousness of the body.” He paused for a moment, appealing to Shayne for understanding.
Shayne said, soberly, “Go on.”
“I am convinced that Barbara made her suicide attempt while under the influence of drugs — or during a period of acute craving,” Mr. Little continued, “and I am positive that she is using the drugs in New Orleans. Her letters are proof of her condition.”
“What sort of letters?” Shayne asked bluntly.
“She writes very queerly. She refuses to address me as her father. She signs her letters ‘Margo,’ the name she is living under — her pseudonym, Margo Macon. She writes to me as a stranger.”
“How is she fixed for money?”
“I send her a weekly sum.”
Shayne said, “You don’t need a detective. The police in New Orleans can clear up the case.” With a wave of his big hand he lifted his hip from the table and stood up.
“It isn’t that simple,” Mr. Little said in alarm.
“Why not?” Shayne stopped on his way to the liquor cabinet where the bottle of Monnet was hidden.
“She may be in great danger,” Mr. Little said. “Hourly danger. I need someone I can trust. I know how the police handle such matters. A routine investigation. It might be days before they got around to it.”
Shayne said, “Danger? What are you holding out on me?” His eyes were hot with anger.
Mr. Little rose from his chair, but his body trembled violently, and he sank slowly into it again. “I can’t — tell you. It’s too horrible.”
“If you want help from me, I’ve got to know what you’re talking about.”
Mr. Little’s tongue moistened his lips. “If you could go to New Orleans and contact her — gain her confidence — establish yourself so you could keep a guard over her—”
Timothy Rourke’s nose was trembling like a bloodhound’s. “Mike is right,” he told the editor. “If you can’t trust him with all the angles, how can you expect him to help you?”
“It isn’t that I don’t trust him,” Mr. Little said in despair.
Shayne snorted. He glared at Rourke and said, “Thanks for dropping in. Don’t bother to close the door on your way out. I’ve got several things to do before catching a train for New York.”
Rourke pulled himself up from his straddled position on the chair. “Sorry things didn’t work out.”
Mr. Little made no move to get up. His face had paled until its hue was a yellowish green. He said, in a husky whisper, “Of course you cannot handle the situation without knowing the whole truth.”
Shayne went on to the wall cabinet and took out the Monnet bottle. He brought it back to the desk and splashed cognac into his glass.
Rourke said to Little, “We’d better be going.”
Mr. Little nodded almost imperceptibly, started to get up from the chair and fell back with his hands lolling in his lap.
Rourke gasped. “Give him a drink quick, Mike.”
Shayne grabbed the bottle and held it to Little’s mouth. The smaller man moaned, and with an effort he raised his hands to hold it to his lips. He took two small sips and murmured, “Thanks,” as he made a distasteful grimace.
“You rode him too hard, Mike,” Rourke accused. “It’s not easy for a man to give such facts about his own daughter.”
A spot of color rose to Mr. Little’s cheekbones. He ran the tip of his tongue along his lips and said weakly, “It is a delicate situation — but I must go on if Mr. Shayne is to help me.” His eyes looked dully up at Rourke.
Shayne said, “Here, take another drink. Sorry I haven’t another glass.” He offered the bottle.
Mr. Little shook his head. “I am not a drinking man. I feel stronger, though.”
Shayne said, “Maybe I was too impatient. Go on with your story if you feel up to it.”
Rourke sat down again and Mr. Little relaxed as best he could in the straight chair. “I mentioned Barbara’s recurrent use of drugs. There was a man whom she contacted while she was recovering from her illness. She told me about him. It was he who encouraged her. He taught her to become an addict — and worse.” His voice trembled and he stopped to take a deep breath, then went on. “I know so few of the actual details. I did not press her to reveal them, but she hinted of depravities — when she was under the influence, of course. She tried to break away from this man, but he followed her to New Orleans.”
“Now, we’re getting somewhere,” Shayne said. “I think I know the sort of man you’re talking about.”
“Then you can realize what I feel — what I fear. Barbara loathes the things she does under this man’s influence. She will try to kill herself again. I am positive she will. The next time — she might succeed.”
“Then you actually want me to keep her from killing herself?”
Little nodded. “But — besides that — I’m afraid of what he may do. When she tried to break with him before, he threatened her life. She countered by threatening to report him to the police. This only made matters worse. He made it quite clear that he would not hesitate to murder her if she reported him.”
Shayne took a sip of cognac and said, “Go on.”
“I don’t know his name. Barbara wouldn’t tell me, but I’ve seen him once. I came home unexpectedly and he was there. He left in a hurry. He is a man in his late forties, a foppish dresser — spats and so forth. He has an evil, dissipated face. He is quite bald, slender, and of medium height. A meager description, but it should be enough to mark him if you see him with Barbara.”
Shayne said, “It will be.” His eyes were alert. “About the fee—”
“You’ll take the case?” Little’s voice was eager.
“I’ll take it. The fee will depend on how much time it takes.”
“I’m not a wealthy man, Mr. Shayne, but any figure within reason.”
“Five hundred for expenses,” Shayne said. “When I need more I’ll let you know.” He drew a notebook from his pocket and handed it to Little. “Write down her name — the pseudonym, and the New Orleans address.”
Mr. Little wrote, Margo Macon, Peloine Apartments, Apartment 303, Dumaine Street. He handed the notebook back to Shayne and took a four-by-six photograph from his pocket, passed it to Shayne, then took out his wallet. “That is a recent picture of Barbara,” he said, and handed Shayne a sheaf of bills.
Shayne pocketed the bills without counting them. He was studying the photograph. The girl had wide, tranquil eyes, a small, straight nose, a chin that indicated stubborn determination, and a full, generous mouth lifted pleasantly at the corners. He asked, “Eyes blue?”
“Where can I reach you to report?” Shayne asked.
“Bayfront Hotel here in Miami.” Mr. Little penciled a memorandum in a notebook of his own, tore out the sheet, and handed it to Shayne. “This is my New York telephone number, and please call me the moment you contact Barbara. I will be here in Miami, unless—” He hesitated, and his eyes were sad. “You see, Mr. Shayne, my sister is seriously ill in New York. She is not expected to live, and I expect a message any moment calling me back.”
Shayne nodded. He carefully placed the New York telephone number in his pocket. He said, “I’ll have to get a move on to catch my train.”
Mr. Little held out his hand. Shayne took it this time. Little said, “You won’t, of course, let Barbara know you come from me.”
“Not until I find out some things,” Shayne told him.
Rourke shook Shayne’s hand with a firm grip. He said, “So long, Mike. Be seeing you on the front page.”
Shayne called the office of the apartment hotel and said that his apartment was ready for the cleaners, then hastily opened his already bulging suitcase, jammed the squat bottle half-filled with cognac into it, and went out without a backward glance.
Shayne got off the train in New Orleans at five o’clock in the afternoon. He took a taxi and ordered the driver to take him to the corner of Dumaine and Decatur Streets. He settled himself comfortably as the cab slid smoothly down Canal Street, and enjoyed the pleasurable sensation of returning to the ancient city after an absence of many years.
Upon reaching the old French Quarter, he closed his eyes and reminiscently breathed in the strangely familiar odors, judging their progress by the smells and street sounds. The slow-flowing Mississippi was on the right, in an arc within a block of Decatur as they passed Jackson Square, the Plaza de Armas, then his nose told him they were approaching the west end of the French Market, his destination. He opened his eyes as the driver slowed. “That’s the corner right ahead, boss.”
Shayne nodded. “Just drop me at the corner.”
The driver shrugged and pulled in to the curb where North Peters hits Decatur at a sharp angle. Shayne got out, paid the fare, and stood on the sidewalk beside his suitcase until the taxi was out of sight.
He lifted his Panama and ruffled his hair. Here was one spot which was unchanged. It was good to discover that some things didn’t change. Though remodeled, the sheds and stalls of the old market straggled along the right side of the street ahead of him. There was the traditional coffee stand offering its café noir and café au lait; as always, the flow of rickety trucks and farm wagons; the babble of strange tongues; and the mixture of white and black with all the shadings in between.
Shayne replaced his hat and pulled it low over his eyes, picked up the suitcase, and crossed Decatur to stroll up Dumaine. He found the number he was looking for halfway up the block and was pleased to discover that his memory for street numbers in the Quarter had remained with him during his nine-year absence.
The building was ancient, three stories, and had been converted into apartments, four to the floor on either side, with a private balcony protected by a wrought-iron railing appended to each apartment. A faded sign near the entrance read Peloine Apartments, Hyers and Groop, Managers. The word Vacancy was printed below, and a small square of cardboard pasted in front of the word read NO in inked capitals.
Shayne set his suitcase down and frowned at the sign, then looked at the buildings around the apartment house. Beyond the Peloine was a low-roofed single-story dwelling. The other side of the Peloine was flanked by a fairly new and ugly brick structure which complied with the ancient architectural designs in the neighborhood by providing the same distinctive iron-railed balconies for each hotel room. The two buildings were not more than ten feet apart, the outer rails of the balconies almost touching.
The brick structure bore the unimaginative name: The Hyers Hotel. Shayne walked around, looking the setup over carefully, then strode into the hotel. A Negro bellhop snapped to attention and slid across the tiled floor to take his bag. Shayne sauntered up to the desk and was greeted with brisk cordiality by a short, fat man who slid a registration card forward and handed Shayne a fountain pen.
“Maybe you could give me a little information,” the detective said.
“I will be glad to be of service, sir.” The deferential reply stressed the word “service” with a slight whistle.
Shayne got out his wallet. He took out a small slip of paper and some one-dollar bills. He folded three of the bills lengthwise and held them between two fingers, extending them toward the clerk while he read the slip of paper: Apartment 303, The Peloine Apartments. He glanced up at the clerk. “The Peloine is next door. Do you happen to know where number three-oh-three would be located in the building?”
The fat clerk had heavy black eyebrows. One brow was puckishly curved higher than the other. He arched the puckish brow higher, glanced at the folded bills, and cleared his throat. “It happens,” he said, whistling through an aperture where a tooth was missing, “that I do know the room layout there. The Peloine is under the same management as this hotel.” He lowered small black eyes to the bills between Shayne’s fingers.
Shayne moved his hand forward. The bills disappeared. “Three-oh-three,” the clerk whistled, “is on the top floor back, sir. It faces this way.”
Shayne refolded the slip of paper and placed it in his wallet. “Opposite approximately which of your rooms?”
The clerk’s brows crawled together like two black, hairy worms, accentuating the deep line above his bulbous nose. He cocked his head on one side and studied Shayne, then asked sternly, “Are you checking in here, or merely looking for information?”
Shayne grinned and picked up the pen. “I intend registering as a guest, if that makes a difference.” He wrote his name with a flourish, adding Miami, Florida, on the address line.
The clerk waddled over to consult a room chart. He said, “Our number three-sixty-two is opposite the apartment you mentioned.”
Shayne lit a cigarette. “Is three-sixty-two vacant?”
The clerk shook his head. “It happens not to be at present. Perhaps in a few days—”
Shayne said irritably, “A few days won’t do.” He reached for his wallet again, watching the clerk’s eyes. They were greedy in his swarthy face. He took out a five, hesitated an instant, and added another five. Folding them between his fingers as he had done before, he said, “Perhaps you could persuade the present occupant to take another room.” He moved his hand negligently across the desk.
The clerk’s face became grave. The tip of his tongue appeared in the aperture where a tooth was missing. “I think perhaps I could, Mr. Shayne.”
Shayne’s eyes were as cold as steel. The two bills had disappeared from his fingers.
“I’m quite sure it can be arranged,” the clerk said hastily. “If you’d care to sit here in the lobby for a few minutes—” His voice trailed off in a whistle as he snapped his fingers at the bellhop who stood by with Shayne’s bag.
Shayne said, “Sure,” and sauntered away from the desk. He sat down in a comfortable chair and crossed his legs while the clerk conferred in low tones with the small Negro. The boy’s eyes glistened and two buck teeth shone through a broad grin. He took a key from the clerk, left the bag at the desk, and slid to the waiting elevator.
A sudden wild clatter of sound drifted through the open doorway from the street, resolving into a tinny, ecstatic rhythm. After a brief prelude, deep and harmonious voices joined in, singing a strange melody which finally ended in a wild chant.
Shayne’s wide mouth was spread in an appreciative grin. “Spasm band, eh?” he said to the clerk. “It’s been a long time since I heard one.”
The clerk nodded. “Black boys looking for lagniappe. Some of them are pretty good.”
Shayne looked toward the elevator. The bellhop was nowhere in sight. A man and a woman came into the lobby. The man was very tall and incredibly thin. He wore a rumpled suit and his hands continually gesticulated as he talked excitedly to the woman. He spoke French. The woman was fat and a black mustache grew on her thick upper lip. She listened placidly and answered in soft Italian when the thin man gave her a chance to speak. They crossed the lobby without looking at Shayne or the clerk and went up in the elevator.
When the elevator came down, the Negro bellhop got out. He went to the desk and said something to the clerk, then picked up Shayne’s suitcase.
The clerk said, “Your room is ready, Mr. Shayne.”
On the third floor, Shayne followed the bellhop down a carpeted hallway. He said, “That was fast work. How did the other fellow feel about getting the bum’s rush out of his room?”
The boy turned and flashed white teeth. “It wa’n’t nothin’, suh. Jes’ moved his stuff out lak Mistuh Rainey tol’ me.” He stopped near the end of the corridor and turned the knob of a door, then stepped back with a great show of gallantry and waved Shayne into the room.
Shayne stepped inside and glanced around. A slow grin spread over his face when he saw nothing whatever to indicate that the room had been recently occupied, and though a humid breeze came in through open French windows, the odor of unoccupancy clung to the room. Taking a half dollar from his pocket he flipped it to the boy who caught it expertly. “Bring up some cracked ice,” Shayne ordered.
“Yas, suh. Thank you, suh,” the boy responded, and went out with his buck teeth clamped on the silver coin.
Shayne muttered to himself, “Thirteen-fifty on the expense account for asking questions,” then strode to a short double window and opened it. Looking out, he saw ancient buildings, some of them boasting modern additions, which encroached upon the courtyard below and pressed against each other. A narrow service alleyway twisted around the new additions, with nooks here and there where unkempt palms and shrubs and vines straggled between flagstone slabs.
He frowned, searching his memory. He recalled that a part of the ground on which the hotel was built had once been a beautiful courtyard filled with palms and tropical shrubs and dining tables. Nine years ago it had been one of the gayest of the Quarter’s al fresco night clubs, operated in connection with the hotel which was now converted into the Peloine Apartments.
Turning from the window, Shayne went to the long French windows leading out onto the small, private balcony. The enclosure was not more than two feet wide and ran the length of the doors. The grill work was fashioned of thick, trailing vines topped by a smooth, flat railing.
Stepping out on the balcony, Shayne emitted a low whistle of surprise, for directly before him, so close that he could have touched her, a girl lay in a canvas deck chair on a more spacious projecting balcony of the Peloine Apartments building. The grille work of openmouthed amphibians and writhing reptiles of the larger balcony was not more than two feet removed from Shayne’s iron trellis. His belt buckle clanked against the top rail when he bent over and leaned against it in an effort to see the girl’s face.
She was half turned away from him, curled up in the chair, with her left cheek resting on her forearm. She wore a bandanna halter which did not adequately cover the swell of her full breasts, and a pair of shorts. Her skin was deeply tanned, her hair was brown with copper highlights where a ray of sunshine touched it. It was cut very short and curled in soft ringlets at the nape of her neck. Her visible right eye was closed and her flat stomach rose and fell gently with rhythmic breathing. She was either fast asleep or doing a splendid job of pretending.
He continued to stare at the girl, fascinated. Her nose was small and straight, her lips full and curved upward at the corners. Her forehead was wide and high and smooth. There was no doubt that she was Margo Macon, and he decided that the $13.50 had been well spent.
When a knock sounded on his room door, he straightened his long body and went in to admit the Negro boy and a pitcher of ice cubes. He took the pitcher, ignored the buck-toothed smile and anticipatory gleam in the boy’s eyes, and closed the door. He set the pitcher on the dresser and opened his suitcase.
He took the photograph of Barbara Little from the tie compartment of the bag and studied it for a moment, nodding with satisfaction, then propped it upright on the dresser. He went back to dig farther into the suitcase and bring out the half-empty fifth of Monnet cognac, went into the bathroom where he found two tumblers on the shelf above the lavatory.
Returning to the balcony with a glass of ice water and half a glass of cognac, he found the girl in her original position. The last ray of sunshine had gone, and her body was in full shade.
Shayne’s eyes looked broodingly upon her for a time, then he settled one hip on the railing, carefully tested the width of the flat top rail of the grille with the bottom of the tumbler of ice water, and left it there.
He said, “It’s getting late for a siesta, young lady.”
The girl’s right eyelid fluttered. Her body tensed, but she did not move for a full 30 seconds. Then she yawned languidly, rolled over on her back and looked up into the angular face of the redheaded detective who was not more than five feet away.
“Neighborly, aren’t they, these balconies?”
“Intimate,” Shayne said. He took a sip of the cognac and chased it with ice water.
“Um-m-m.” The girl stretched her bare arms and arched her body upward with sinuous grace of a kitten.
A full-faced view of the girl erased any small doubt he might have had about her identity. The girl in the deck chair was Barbara Little, alias Margo Macon.
Grinning broadly, Shayne lifted his cognac glass in a toast and said, “So this is it. The bold, bad French Quarter where beautiful girls loll around unclothed to raise the blood pressure of unwary tourists.”
She nodded, her wide blue eyes frankly interrogating him. “Le Vieux Carre.” A perfectly slurred accent caressed the words. “Do I? And are you?”
She smiled lazily, drawing her upper lip away from the fine edges of her teeth and looking entirely unsophisticated. “Do I raise your blood pressure, and are you an unwary tourist?”
Shayne pondered the question, then said, “At the risk of offending you — no.”
Her delighted laughter bubbled up. She turned on her side, rested her chin on her hand and studied his features with unabashed approval. She said, “I like you,” simply and candidly.
“Because — not one man in ten thousand would have stayed on his side of the rail with me lying here — like this. Not one in a hundred thousand here in the Quarter. But you haven’t even tried to get in a lecherous crack,” she ended, a little frown puckering her forehead.
“Don’t get the idea my blood pressure can’t go up,” he warned. “I just don’t like the setting.”
She laughed again. “I didn’t suppose you were a eunuch. Not with that mop of red hair. My name is Margo.”
Shayne nodded approval. “Nicely alliterative with Mike.”
Margo came to a sitting position. “Nice ice water you’ve got there.”
“Shall we drink to lots of future alliteration?” He held up his cognac glass which was half empty.
She made a face at the glass. “I don’t like tea,” she hazarded with distaste.
Shayne laughed. “You’re a lousy crystal gazer.” He set the glass down and swung from the railing, stepped inside and got the cognac bottle. Returning, he leaned over the railing and handed it to her. “The last of my private stock.”
Her eyes widened as she accepted the bottle. “I guessed it would be cognac, but I didn’t hope for Monnet. Should I get a glass or may I drink from the bottle?”
“Go ahead,” Shayne said, “it would be nice to share your diseases.”
She put the bottle to her lips and took three swallows, exhaled a long breath of satisfaction, and her eyes sparkled at Shayne. She held the bottle up and looked at it. “I hope I didn’t take too much.”
“Help yourself. It’s a pleasure to find good cognac appreciated. We can pick up a few more bottles.”
“Not in the Quarter. Not Monnet.”
Shayne emptied his glass and held it out to her. “We may as well split what’s left.”
She studied the liquor line carefully, poured an inch in the tumbler and said dreamily, “This is the way things should happen in the Quarter — and don’t.”
“It’s happening now,” he reminded her.
She took a small sip from the bottle. “Is it — is this really happening, Mike? Won’t I wake up after a while and find some greasy fat man leaping over the rail to paw me?”
“Not while I’m around to ward them off,” he told her confidently.
She closed her eyes and took another sip from the bottle. “Will you ward them off, Mike?” A shiver passed over her tanned body.
“Is it that bad?”
“Worse.” She shivered again and curved her full lips in a smile of self-contempt. “Oh, what a heel I am. Something perfectly lovely happens and I—” she clenched her fingers tightly around the bottle as though it represented some cherished thing.
Shayne got out a pack of cigarettes and shook one partly out and handed the pack over. She nodded and said, “Light it for me and I’ll get your diseases this time.” She was laughing again.
Shayne lit the cigarette. She got up and stood at the railing. When he handed it to her she caught his hand and held it for a moment, then put the cigarette to her lips and puffed quietly.
Twilight was coming on. Shayne smoked and sipped his drink, waiting for Margo to say something. When she didn’t, he said, “Let’s finish off the drinks and talk.”
Again she took three long swallows from the bottle, and again her eyes sparkled with delight. Shayne drained his glass and set it down, offered to take the empty bottle and dispose of it, but she said, “No. I’m going to keep it,” and cradled it in her arms. “It’s crazy,” she went on softly, her blue eyes dreamy, “the way things happen. A month ago I didn’t care whether I lived or died.”
“A month in the sunlight does strange things to people,” she said after a moment. “I can see now how impossible it is for one to be a failure at twenty-three. How utterly juvenile to think so.”
“A failure?” Shayne arched ragged red brows.
“You see, I thought I could write. I’ve always thought so. Then suddenly I found out I couldn’t.” She looked up at him with an odd little smile. “Now I’m convinced that I can’t do it. A month here under the most perfect conditions and I haven’t written a word. But the payoff is that it doesn’t matter. Not any more. I simply don’t care. Does that make sense?”
“Plenty.” Shayne was unsmiling. “Writers need something to write about. After you’ve done a little living—”
“Are you a writer?” she asked eagerly.
Shayne shook his head. “No.”
“And you’re not a tourist,” she mused. “Now let me see — you drink Monnet and wash it down with ice water, of all things! You might be a sculptor — those hands of yours—” She laid a small brown hand over his left one.
Shayne held out his big right hand and studied his long knobby fingers. “They come in handy for a lot of things,” he said, amused. “Why should I be a writer or sculptor?”
“Well, some kind of artist. Why else would you be here in the Quarter wasting your good cognac on a gal you’ve never seen before, and expecting only conversation in return?”
“Maybe I expect more than conversation in return.”
She laughed impishly. “Maybe you’re one of those devils who plan their seductions carefully and lull their victims into false security during the preliminaries. But you look like a forthright scoundrel.”
Shayne said, with a big grin, “You’re too young to be talking so airily about seductions.”
She said scathingly, “After a month in the Quarter?”
Shayne took a final drag on his cigarette and ground it out with the toe of his shoe.
“You changed the subject very cleverly,” she charged. “We were talking about you and why you are here.”
“I’m a detective,” he said gravely.
“Really?” She laughed scornfully. “As though you’d say so if you were.”
“Yeh,” he agreed lamely, “I guess that doesn’t go over so well.” He turned to face her squarely. “Suppose I give you an opportunity to find out more about me. You might show me some of the high spots around the city. I’ll foot the bills and you can play your little guessing game. How about starting tonight?”
“Oh, I’d love it,” she breathed, “but—” She sighed and a shadow crossed her face. “I have an engagement tonight. Tomorrow night, maybe. I should be getting dressed right now.”
“Enter the boy friend,” Shayne growled.
“No — nothing like that.”
“Then break the date.”
“I’m having a couple of girls in to dinner. They won’t stay late. If you’re still footloose after ten-thirty or eleven—”
Shayne said, “I’ll be around.”
“Grand,” she cried, “I’ll get rid of them early.”
Shayne was leaning negligently against the railing. Margo laid the cognac bottle gently in the chair, whirled around suddenly and extended her arms across the short distance separating them. She caught Shayne’s angular face between her palms, bent her body tensely forward and pressed her soft, full mouth against his. Then she danced away from him, picking up the cognac bottle and calling gaily from the doorway, “That was to seal our date for tonight — so you wouldn’t let yourself be picked up by some hussy.”
“I won’t,” he said huskily. He turned away from the gathering shadows of twilight and went into his room and turned on the lights.
His eyes held a bleak look of anger as they ranged over to the photograph on the dresser. He shrugged and muttered to himself, “You’re a hell of a detective, Mike Shayne, letting that girl get under your skin.”
He stripped off his shirt and bathed his face, put on a clean shirt and knotted a tie in the soft collar, got his hat and went out.
Downstairs, he gave the girl at the switchboard the number of Mr. Little’s Miami hotel and asked her to get Joseph P. Little as soon as possible. “I’ll take the call in one of the booths,” he told her.
“The center booth,” the operator directed.
Shayne waited near the booth. When the phone rang he went in and closed the door, lifted the receiver and heard the operator say, “Your call to Mr. Little in Miami is ready, Mr. Shayne.”
“Shayne! You are prompt. I’ve been sitting by my phone hoping you would call.”
“I’m at the Hyers Hotel in the French Quarter,” Shayne told him. “I’ve just talked to her and she’s all right.”
“Are you sure, Mr. Shayne?”
“As sure as a man can be after talking to a girl for thirty or forty minutes. She’s off the junk. You can quit worrying about that angle.”
“Off the — junk?”
“Dope — drugs — morphine, whatever she has been taking.”
“Don’t be too sure. She’s clever about concealing things. If the urge overcomes her again—”
“I’ll check every angle. I’m going out now to dig up what I can on the traffic here in the Quarter.”
“I wish you wouldn’t leave her alone, Shayne.”
“She’s all right,” Shayne growled. “I’ve got a room where I can keep tabs on her — directly opposite her apartment.”
“That’s fine. I feel so much better with you on the job, Mr. Shayne.”
“Stop worrying and leave it to me, then. She’s having a couple of girls in to dinner, and I’m going to see her later tonight.”
“That’s good news. I’m leaving for New York at once. I have just a few minutes to catch my train. My sister — you remember I told you — passed away this afternoon.”
Shayne said, “I’ll call you in New York if anything comes up,” and hung up.
At police headquarters Shayne inquired as to the location of Chief McCracken’s office and was directed to an office near the end of a long corridor. The door was slightly ajar, and Shayne knuckled the glass as he pushed it open.
Chief McCracken lifted a face which was smooth and round all the way to the crown of his head where a few wisps of yellowish hair were plastered down. His bald head and colorless brows and lashes gave him a naked look. There were folds of flesh beneath his chin, but he didn’t look soft. He stopped the gurgling of a short-stemmed brier and looked at Shayne without curiosity. He said, “Yes?”
Shayne lounged forward and pushed some papers from a corner of the desk, lowered one hip to the cleared spot, and pulled off his hat. He said, “It’s been nine years, Chief.”
Chief McCracken leaned back in his swivel chair and studied Shayne calmly with cold blue eyes. Then a smile twitched the corners of his mouth. He leaned forward and held out a squarish hand. “By God, you’re Mike Shayne,” he rumbled.
Shayne took his hand in a hearty grip, looked at the stubby brier, and said in a wondering tone, “Nine years and the same goddamned pipe.”
The chief laughed. He pressed a callused forefinger in the bowl and put the stem between his lips, leaned back and clasped his hands over his thick stomach. After the second gurgle, he said, “We’ve been wondering about you, Mike. Heard a lot about your activities in Miami. So they finally ran you out?”
Shayne grinned and lit a cigarette. “I’m in town on business. You’ve done right well, John. I didn’t know an honest cop could get ahead in this town.”
McCracken chuckled. “They haven’t got onto me yet. Don’t tell anybody I’m honest. Going to be around long?”
“I don’t know yet. I closed up shop when I left Miami. I may light here in New Orleans for a while.”
“That’s fine,” said the chief warmly. “Things are just about the same. Come out to the house tonight for dinner.”
“Not tonight, thanks. I’m going to be busy. Thought maybe you could help me out a little, John.”
“Sure. Anything, Mike.”
“If a stranger in the Quarter wanted to pick up a few bindles, who would he see?” Shayne asked.
“I mean, who’s running the dope racket in the Quarter?”
“That’s a hell of a question to ask me.”
“Who else would I ask?”
The chief studied Shayne for a long moment. There was shrewd sympathy and cold-blooded appraisal in his blue eyes. He said, “You’re not experimenting, are you, Mike?”
Shayne laughed and let smoke filter through his nostrils. “Not yet. Take it this way. A gal who has been on the stuff and is trying to stay off hits town cold and holes up in the Quarter. There might be a bastard who wants her back on. He’d be lined in with whatever local lads are supplying the demand right now. I want to cut corners and get to him — if he’s in town.”
Chief McCracken nodded. He knocked a cold heel from his pipe into a wastebasket and refilled the bowl from a can of cheap tobacco. “You wouldn’t know Soule,” he mused. “No — he was after your time. He started peddling it in back alleys and has been working up. We’ve dragged him in plenty, but never got a conviction. I’d say Soule.” He was thoughtful, then suddenly brightened. “Why don’t you have a talk with Denton? That’s his precinct.”
“Denton?” Shayne’s nostrils flared as though the name stunk as it came from his lips.
“Captain Denton.” McCracken stressed the title. “You remember Dolph Denton.”
Shayne said, “Yeh, I remember. He was pounding the Rampart beat that night I got walked out by Masketti’s mob. He found it convenient to look the other way while I took what they dished out.” A muscle twitched in his lean cheek and his gray eyes were bleak.
“That was nine years ago. Dolph’s been coming up since then. He’s got friends at City Hall — and among important people around town.”
Shayne said, “I’ll drop around and talk with him.” He studied the tip of his burning cigarette a moment, then asked, “Soule, eh?”
“Rudy Soule. He may be hard to reach, but Denton might be able to line things up for you. You know how those things go, Mike.”
“I have a hunch how they’re going with Dolph Denton running the Quarter.” Shayne’s voice was hard. “Hell, he’s the guy I’ll do my talking to.” He lifted himself from the desk. “Thanks a lot, John.”
“Don’t mention it, Mike. If you can make it out to dinner tonight—”
“I’m working. Some other night. Give Mrs. McCracken my regards.”
“Sure. Come any time. And don’t throw too much weight at Denton,” the chief warned. “He can help you if you handle him right.”
Shayne said, “I don’t doubt he’s got a payoff list of every fink in the Quarter. Be seeing you.”
Half an hour later Shayne was ushered into Captain Dolph Denton’s private office by a hulking sergeant. The office was located in the rear of the precinct station, and Denton was talking on the telephone.
A fat cigar filled one corner of his mouth and he cursed into the mouthpiece on the other side. He ended with: “No! And that’s final.” He slammed the instrument down hard, growled, “All right, Parks. What is it now?” after wasting only a fleeting glance on the tall redhead.
“This man says he’s an old friend of yours, Captain. I told him you were busy, but he said he had to see you.” Denton chewed on the cigar and stared at Shayne from beneath bushy black brows. He stopped chewing on the cigar and said, “Okay, Parks.” He waved the sergeant from the room and barked at Shayne, “I thought we’d seen the last of you when Masketti ran you out of town.”
“I came back to congratulate you on your promotion, Captain.” Shayne rubbed his angular jaw, then pulled up a chair and sat in front of the desk. “I suppose you got your start by looking the other way on Rampart that evening. Masketti pulled a lot of weight in those days.”
“Masketti still pulls a lot of weight.” The flat words were a warning.
Shayne ignored the warning. “And you’re still looking the other way when you figure it’s worth while.”
“To hell with that stuff, Shayne,” Denton growled.
Shayne said, “All right. To hell with it. I want a line on the boys who deal the junk off the elbow here in the Quarter.”
Denton scowled and asked, “Working?”
“What’s your angle?”
“Put it this way,” said Shayne. “If a stranger was looking for dope in the Quarter, where would he go?”
“That’s a hell of a question—”
“To ask you?” Shayne interrupted with a grin. “Who should know more about it than the precinct captain?”
“You won’t get very far pulling one of your fast ones here, Shayne.” Denton’s black eyes were angry and his black mustache wriggled as he worked the cigar to the other corner of his mouth.
Shayne said evenly, “This isn’t a fast one. I’m not the Chamber of Commerce. I know how things are run in this town — and every other town. Either you make it easy for me or I make it tough on you.”
Denton said furiously, “You left New Orleans once with your tail between your legs.”
“And now I’m back — and I’m not wagging it for you.” Shayne leaned back and continued easily, “I’m harder to take than I was nine years ago, Denton. Tell Masketti that if he’s interested.”
“Masketti,” said Denton, “won’t be interested. He’s a big-shot contractor now. Government jobs.”
Shayne said, “To hell with Masketti. Let’s forget all this old stuff. All I want is a little information.”
Denton’s heavy brows drew apart and the scowl went away. He said heartily, “That’s all right, then. What kind of job you working on?”
“Girl stuff. She’s new here. She’s been a hoppy and may be getting back on it. I want to find out whether she’s made any contacts in that direction.”
“Wait a minute.” Denton stabbed his soggy cigar butt at Shayne. “Sounds like the same record I heard yesterday.”
“Yesterday?” Shayne’s red brows shot upward.
“Yeh. There was a fellow in here asking the same line of questions. Says he’s trying to locate a girl living here under a phony name. Figures she might have tried to buy some stuff and he can get a line that way. I gave him the brush-off, naturally.”
“Why did he want to find the girl?”
“Claimed he was her uncle. Name of Drake or something like that. I dunno. You know how it is. You get a hunch. Mine was that he wasn’t leveling. Something screwy about it.”
Shayne sat up a little straighter. He asked, “Can you describe the man?”
Denton’s lids dropped over his black eyes for a moment and he drummed stubby finger tips on the desk. “Didn’t pay much attention,” he muttered. “Bald headed. Fifty, maybe.”
“No. That was something. Dressed up like a Christmas tree — spats and all. Not loud, see. Like he had a valet, maybe, to fix him up. The way you and me couldn’t look if we spent a grand on one outfit.”
“Name was Drake?”
“Yeh. Think so. Look, does this bird tie in with what you’re looking for?”
“He might,” Shayne said slowly. “Did you take him for a dope-head?”
“N-No. Hell, you know how it is. Nobody can pick one for sure. Not that kind. The punks, sure. The ghouls that hit it steady. But him — I dunno. Why? Do you think he was giving me a line? Trying to work me for a line on where to buy the stuff?”
Shayne grinned slowly at Denton’s wrath. “I doubt whether he was after that, but if he’s the guy I think he was, he didn’t intend any good for the girl he was trying to find. You know where I can find Drake?”
“I believe he said he was at the Angelus Hotel if I got anything for him.”
“The Angelus,” Shayne repeated. “And now, how about Soule?”
“Rudy Soule? I thought you’d been out of town for nine years.”
Shayne said, “I have, but I just had a talk with John McCracken.”
“And he told you that Soule and me was like that?” Denton extended his right hand with the first two fingers fitted snugly together.
Shayne shook his head and said placidly, “He mentioned Soule’s name and said this was your precinct.”
“Well, I hear things, of course,” Captain Denton admitted. “Maybe Soule is in the racket. I wouldn’t know.”
“All I want,” Shayne explained, “is to get a line on the setup. A word from you in the right direction might help.”
“The hell you say,” Denton snarled. His heavy features were suddenly contorted with rage. “The chief sent you, huh? And I’m supposed to fall for that. I’ve had enough of his stoolies trying to hang something on me. Get out — and stay out of my precinct, Shayne. Think up a better story than the one you just handed me before you come back.” Denton jabbed a button on his desk. He was breathing hard and his face was very red.
Shayne said, “I’d watch that blood pressure if I were you, Captain Denton.”
Sergeant Parks and a patrolman came in.
Denton snarled, “Take a good look at this redhead. He’s an out-of-town shamus stooling around our precinct to hang something on us. Show him the way out and pass the word along that if anything happens to him there won’t be any comeback.”
Shayne stood up. His eyes were bleak with anger and his teeth showed between drawn lips. He said, “If that’s the way you want it, Denton.”
Denton said, “Don’t be too rough with him here in the station, boys.”
Shayne started out. The sergeant and the patrolman got out of his way as he stalked past them with long-legged strides. He heeled the door shut behind him and went out past the desk into the open air.
The Angelus was a small, modern hotel on Carondolet, just the other side of Canal Street. The lobby was overfurnished and gave off an air of stiff respectability. Shayne strode across to the desk and asked, “Do you have a Mr. Drake registered?”
The clerk was young and bored. He glanced through a file of cards and nodded. “Number three-oh-nine. I don’t believe he’s in, however,” he added with a glance behind him at rows of numbered key cubicles.
Shayne moved to the end of the counter and lifted the receiver of a house telephone. He asked for 309 and listened to the ringing for a long minute without replacing the receiver. Then he hung up and strolled across the lobby to a small desk with the sign Bell Captain over it. He eased his right hip onto a corner of the desk and asked huskily, “What’s chances of a man getting shown around this burg?”
The man behind the desk was one-armed and slightly bald. He had a high, sloping forehead, sunken cheeks, and a very sharp chin. His eyes, bright and calculating, studied Shayne’s face as the bell captain reached for some printed circulars. “We can arrange various sight-seeing tours—”
Shayne shook his head and snorted, “I’m not interested in that tourist flubdubbery. I want to see the real town — the Quarter and all.”
“We can arrange for a special guide to take you through the Quarter.”
Shayne leaned closer, getting out his wallet and opening it. “You know what I mean, pal. Where a man can take it on the hip, or maybe inhale some snow if he gets the yen. The real low-down — three-ways-for-your-money stuff.” He slid a five from his wallet, watching the captain’s face, and then added another five to it.
The captain stopped shaking his head. He dropped the circulars and palmed the bills. “Off the record, I can put you onto a lad that knows the ropes. A circus or the junk — whatever you crave.”
Shayne licked his lips and nodded. He tried to make his voice drool with lewd satisfaction. “That’s what I’m willing to pay for.”
“Be around about seven-thirty. I’ve got it fixed for him to pick up another hot sport from three-oh-nine.”
Shayne crossed Canal and wandered up Royal Street under overhanging balconies of cast-iron lacework. He turned left on St. Louis, passed up Antoine’s for a small, unpretentious building near the end of the block. There was a sign on the door which read Casti’s, and underneath it the single word Eat.
Steps led down from the door into a semi-basement room set with small tables not too close together in spite of the limited capacity of the place. The only light was supplied by individual table lamps with shaggy, irregularly cut halves of coconut shells for shades. These were lit only at the occupied tables, and at this early hour only a few were lit.
Shayne took a table in a corner and waved the handwritten menu aside. His waiter was an aged Negro with a wizened face and friendly, inquiring eyes. His bony shoulders were gracefully bent at a gallant angle from years of service. He bobbed his head and asked, “What will you have this evenin’, suh?”
Shayne said, “Bring me three sidecars if you’ve got any decent cognac to put in them.”
“Yassuh. We’s got moughty fine cognac what ain’t nevah been drunk, suh.”
Shayne asked, “Does Mr. Casti still make his gumbo with crayfish tails and shrimp?”
A shadow crossed the Negro’s lined face. “Mistuh Casti ain’t heah no mo’, suh, but de gumbo am still de same ez when he wuz.”
Shayne nodded. “Pure coffee with it?”
“Yassuh — jes lak always, suh.”
The waiter returned with three cocktails, grinning broadly as he set them in a row before Shayne. “I hopes one don’t get wahm ’fo you finishes t’other, suh.”’
Shayne said, “They won’t,” and drank half of one of the sidecars. It was icy, and strong with the clean, mellow taste of good cognac.
The gumbo was as Shayne remembered it. He ate the man-sized serving while the small restaurant slowly filled with hungry patrons. By the time he topped off the gumbo with a sugarless Café Brulot, there was not a vacant table in the low-ceilinged room and a waiting line was forming outside. He had killed a lot of time with dinner, and it was nearing 7:30 when he stepped out onto St. Louis Street. He walked briskly back to Canal and crossed over to the Angelus Hotel.
A young man leaned against the desk in front of the bell captain. He was a head shorter than Shayne, with a body that looked unhealthily thick. He had smooth features and sensual lips set in a perpetual pout. The captain said something to him and he turned his head to watch Shayne stroll across the lobby.
The captain said, “This is Henri. He’ll take care of you, but good.”
“No regular stuff,” Shayne warned. “I can find my own way around to the strip-tease joints. I’m set to get plenty high tonight — and I don’t mean on liquor.”
Henri’s pout turned into a sullen sort of smile. “The places I’ll take you to, Mister, the girls don’t do any stripping because they start out naked. You can get on any kind of a jag from ether on up if you want.”
“That’s it. The works.” Shayne glanced at his watch and frowned. “Where’s your other party?”
“There he is now,” the captain said, as the elevator stopped to let out passengers.
The man from 309 was slender and about medium height. He minced across the lobby in gray spats, carrying a pearl-gray derby and with a light Malacca cane hooked over his left arm. His face was lined, but there was color in his cheeks and his lips showed a tinge of red that didn’t belong on the lips of a man of his age. He disregarded Shayne and Henri, and addressed the bell captain.
“I’m ready to go out.”
“Right on time, Mr. Drake. This is Henri, that I told you about. And this is another gentleman looking for the same sort of a time you are. I thought you wouldn’t mind if he tagged along, seeing you’ve got a lot in common.” Drake glanced at Henri and then at Shayne. He put on his derby and compressed his lips. “I understood I was engaging a personal guide.”
“I won’t be in the way,” Shayne assured him. He winked his left eye. “I guess there’ll be plenty enough for both of us.”
“Very well.” Drake nodded impatiently. “Shall we go?”
Henri said, “I’ve got a hack outside,” and led the way across the lobby. He took them to a shiny old Packard sedan that said Taxi on the side. “I don’t have a meter,” he assured them as he opened the rear door.
Drake got in and sat stiffly erect with his hands folded over the crook of his cane. When Shayne slouched down on the rear seat beside him, he turned his head slightly and said, “I suppose we should introduce ourselves. My name is Drake.”
“And mine is Shayne. Are you a stranger in New Orleans?”
“With the exception of a few business trips.”
Shayne chuckled and smacked his lips. “It’s a good town for business — monkey business, eh?” He nudged his companion in the ribs.
Drake said, “Ha-ha,” then leaned forward to warn Henri, “Remember, I want to make the rounds. The — ah — most depraved places.”
Henri nodded and started the motor. “It’s a little early for the real hotsy-totsy joints. We’ll start with a pipe dive and sort of work our way up.”
Shayne said, “I need something to give me a lift. Maybe a pipeful will be just the thing. How about you, Drake?”
“If you are referring to opium, I confess I’ve never experimented.”
“What is your line?”
“My — line?” Drake frowned at him.
“What do you go for? You know.” Shayne waved a bony hand.
“I’m afraid you’ve gotten the wrong impression,” said Drake. “My interest in the seamier side of New Orleans is objective — purely objective.” He hesitated, then added, “I’m looking for a girl.”
Shayne shrugged. “Sure. I can do with a babe, too. After I get high enough.”
“No, no,” said Drake with a cold smile. “I refer to a girl living in the Quarter under an assumed name.”
“Gave you the air, did she?”
“She is a — a protégé.”
Shayne chuckled and lit a cigarette. “Whatever you call her is all right by me.”
Henri pulled to the curb on Royal just beyond Orleans alley. He looked back at his passengers and said, “There’s a dump down the alley toward the old Cabildo where I can get you anything you want.”
Shayne opened the door and got out. Henri came around and joined them. It was not quite dark but the alley was shadowed in heavy twilight. Henri led the way forward with a businesslike stride.
A woman’s laughter sounded shrilly from the shadows ahead, and then two bulky figures in uniform came loitering toward the trio. They stopped and one of them said gruffly, “That you, Henri? You’re out early tonight.”
Henri said, “Sort of. Got a couple of friends.” He kept moving past the two policemen.
The other cop said, “Hold it, Henri.” He was staring at Shayne intently. Under the brim of his hat, the detective recognized him as the patrolman who had come into Captain Denton’s office with Sergeant Parks that afternoon. He averted his face and strolled on.
“What’s eating you?” Henri asked in a surly tone, half turning back. “Can’t you see I’ve got business?”
“That’s what I wondered? Where you taking those two fellows?”
Henri grated, “What the hell’s it to you?”
Shayne was half a dozen paces ahead of Henri and Drake.
He paused and looked back. One of the bulky policemen was striding toward him. Shayne ducked his chin and hunched his shoulders so the brim of his hat half concealed his gaunt face.
The cop stopped in front of him and jerked the brim of his hat up. He whirled about with an angry snarl, and told Henri, “You better watch your step. This mug is a stoolie. For the Feds maybe.”
Henri whistled and came forward slowly.
Shayne said loudly, “You’re nuts. I’m just out looking for a good time.”
The cop said, “Nuts, huh? Not me. I was in the precinct office this afternoon when Captain Denton threw you out. C’mon, Darcy,” he told his companion. “This guy’s due for a workin’ over.”
Henri stepped close to Shayne and his black eyes glittered in the dusk. “Playing me for a sucker, huh?”
“He’s mistaken,” Shayne protested. “I never saw him before.”
“Denton told us he’s a slick un,” the first policeman grunted. His companion was circling around behind. “I’d know that ugly face of his any time.”
“Making a fall guy out of me,” snarled Henri. His pouting lips flattened against his teeth. The blade of a clasp-knife made a vicious lunge at Shayne’s belly. The detective side-stepped and caught his wrist. He gave him a jerk forward and shoved him against the policeman who had recognized him, saying angrily, “You’re all crazy. I’m not any—”
The other cop’s nightstick caught him from behind. He swayed forward to his knees. Henri rushed forward and kicked him in the face. Shayne toppled sideways and lay still.
The first policeman laughed and pulled Henri back. “Let Darcy rap him with his stick again. The Cap’n said there wouldn’t be no comeback if we messed him up a little.” He gave Henri a shove while Darcy leaned over and swung his nightstick against Shayne’s head again with calculated force.
“Get along with you,” he advised Henri. “You’re lucky you didn’t get no farther showing him around.”
Drake was standing back, watching the scene with disapproval. He nodded and circled the recumbent detective when Henri said, “We might as well go on, Mister.”
“He’s out like a birthday candle,” Darcy informed his partner after shaking Shayne. He bent lower and sniffed his breath. “Got liquor in him,” he reported. “What say we run him in for d.-and-d. and resisting arrest?”
“Good enough. Drag him off the sidewalk first.” They got hold of Shayne’s arms and dragged his limp body into the gutter. Darcy went to put in the call for a wagon while the other officer lit a cigarette and sat down on the curb. Shayne lay face down in the gutter, unconscious and breathing heavily.
When the patrol wagon came, they loaded him in. The jolting ride to jail brought him back to foggy consciousness, but he gave no indication of this. By the time the wagon arrived at headquarters he was fully conscious, and his head throbbed with pain. He stumbled out of the vehicle when it stopped. His gaunt cheeks were streaked with dried blood, his suit was dirty and wrinkled, his eyes bloodshot and wild. He didn’t make a very good impression when he tried to tell his story to the desk sergeant, who was an old hand at listening to the incoherent complaints of the drunk.
Shayne was booked on a charge of drunk-and-disorderly conduct and resisting arrest when the two officers told of finding him staggering around in an alley in the Quarter molesting passers-by and putting up a fight when they tried to reason with him. He was thrown into the bullpen with the drunks and vagrants.
It took him the better part of three hours to persuade a turnkey to bother Chief McCracken with a telephone call at his home.
The chief appeared in person at the barred door. His naked-appearing face and head were highly flushed and his chins quivered with anger. “What the hell, Mike — you might’ve stayed out of trouble the first night you hit town. You used to carry your liquor like a man.”
Shayne laughed painfully and shortly. “Denton doesn’t appreciate my interest in his precinct. You know damn well I’m not drunk.”
The turnkey opened the door, and Shayne went with the chief to the sergeant’s desk for his release. He had managed to brush some of the dirt from his clothes and had combed his blood-matted hair with his knobby fingers.
The desk sergeant was very sorry for the mistake and made overtures to Chief McCracken which Shayne interrupted by saying softly, “You’ll know me the next time they bring me in.”
As they walked through the doorway and out into the clean night air, Shayne filled his lungs and exhaled rapidly several times. He said, “Thanks, John. Sorry to have bothered you.”
“Come on out to the house,” Chief McCracken urged impatiently, “and let’s talk this thing over, Mike. You’ve got to go easy—”
“On Denton?” Shayne interrupted harshly. “Sorry, John. I’ve got work to do, and I’ll make a jackass out of Denton before this is over. Thanks again for springing me. We’ll talk when this case is finished.”
Chief McCracken groaned and muttered something indistinguishable as Shayne hailed a taxi, got in, and said, tersely, “To the Hyers Hotel.”
He sank wearily against the cushioned cab seat and picked hard particles of dried blood from his cheek. His eyes were closed, but relaxation was impossible.
Arriving at his hotel he emerged from the taxi, paid the driver, and stood on the sidewalk contemplating his soiled suit. He made a detour to the back of the hotel, found a service entrance, and went into a narrow hallway leading to stairs behind the elevator. He climbed to the third floor without meeting anyone, unlocked his door, and went in.
The French doors leading onto the balcony were closed, the cream-colored shades drawn. Shayne ran a big hand over his eyes, looked again. The shades of the high double windows were drawn, also.
He was positive he had left the French doors open, but he couldn’t remember about the windows.
Then his roving eyes focused on the dresser. He winced with more than physical pain. The photograph of Barbara Little, alias Margo Macon, was gone.
He went hastily to the French doors, flung them open and looked out. The windows of Apartment 303 were dark. He scowled, turned and hurried into the bathroom and grimaced at his sorry reflection in the mirror above the lavatory. There was an ugly cut in the center of the bump over his left eye, and the shaggy brow was matted with blood.
He stripped off his coat and shirt, bathed his face in cold water, and went in to get a fresh shirt and tie from his suitcase. He unbuttoned the fresh shirt slowly, staring at the dresser. There was no doubt that he had left the photograph there. He couldn’t be mistaken.
Margo — Barbara herself must have sneaked in and taken it. So she did believe him when he said he was a detective. He muttered aloud, “Damn a snooping dame.”
He hurriedly slid his arms into the shirt sleeves and rammed the tail into his trousers, buttoned his trousers and fastened his belt. He groped for a fresh tie without looking and went to the dresser to tie it.
He remembered Margo Macon’s kiss — her slim body dancing away from him — her gay retort, “That’s to seal our date tonight — so you won’t let some hussy pick you up.” Why the hell was her apartment dark if she was expecting him?
He drew his tie into a tight knot and turned to the long windows leading onto the balcony. Faint light from a street lamp shone upon the narrow slit between the two buildings. He could vaguely discern the outline of the deck chair on the larger and opposite balcony where the girl had been curled up in the afternoon.
He stared somberly across the gap. This messed up his plans. If she had the photograph, his plan for pretending to be taken in by her imposture was out.
As he stared and meditated upon just how to meet this new situation, his eyes slowly focused upon a curious blotch of whiteness protruding from her door leading out onto the balcony. Wall shadows darkened the door, but he finally perceived that it was open.
He studied the odd object for a moment, then leaned forward to catch the opposite railing and vaulted across.
The protruding object was a woman’s bare foot.
Shayne struck a match, but he knew before the light flared that Barbara Little was dead.
Shayne hastily killed the match flame, pushed the screen door back and stepped over the body into her apartment. The room was faintly lighted by a glow from his own hotel room directly opposite.
He stood motionless for a long moment looking down upon the outstretched corpse, then sank to his knees and cupped a lighted match in his big hands.
Barbara Little lay on her left side. A pool of blood circled the faded carpet around her head. Her right foot held the screen door slightly ajar. A bright yellow dress of some sheer material was ripped downward from her shoulder. Her right eye was wide open, the lid drawn back as though held by some mechanical device. The pupil stared up at him in death.
The left side of her face was cruelly bludgeoned, indicating the use of a weapon too light to kill with one blow — her murderer had struck again and again with insensate fury. Or the killer might not have been strong enough to bring death with one blow of a heavy weapon. It was clear that she had been dead not more than half an hour.
Shayne glanced at his watch as the match burned down and went out. The time was 10:58.
As he waited for his eyes to become adjusted to the semidarkness, he cursed himself for neglecting the girl, for his failure to take J. P. Little’s earnest warning seriously enough. He should have insisted upon her breaking the dinner engagement with her girl friends so that he could be with her, or at least watch over her from his hotel room.
Accustomed to violent death, Shayne had acquired a superficially impersonal attitude toward murder in the practice of his profession. But this was different. Only a few hours ago he had blatantly assured the girl’s father that she was safe under his protection.
He stood up, strolled aimlessly around the small buffet apartment to get a general idea of the layout without making more light. There was one large room with an in-a-door bed, a tiny kitchenette, and a bathroom. The few furnishings were heavy, richly carved antiques. A stuffed owl watched him somberly from a plaque above an ornamental fireplace. A card table near the balcony doors held the remains of the evening meal. There was service for three.
He went back to the girl’s body and leaned down, struck another match and turned slowly, making a circle of light which disclosed nothing he had not seen previously. He shook the flare out and dropped the charred matchstick in his pocket, eased the French door farther inward to return to the balcony.
The bottom of the door struck some object and would open no farther. He struck a third match and held it behind the door.
Shayne stared with bleak eyes at the squat Monnet cognac bottle which he and Margo Macon had emptied that afternoon. It was smeared and sticky with fresh blood. Bending down, he saw a few short strands of brown hair tangled in the crushed blood, and knew he was looking at the death weapon.
He let the match burn out, worrying his left earlobe between thumb and forefinger, then abruptly strode to the bathroom and felt around for a towel. Returning hurriedly, he dropped it over the blood-smeared bottle, gathered it up loosely and went out onto the balcony.
Light streamed through the French doors which he had left open, outlining his body clearly as he leaped across the railings and went into his room. He laid the towel-wrapped bundle on the bed and closed the doors, then searched swiftly through the dresser drawers in the hope of finding a piece of wrapping paper.
Finding nothing suitable, he carefully cradled the awkward bundle in the crook of his arm, locked the door, and went down the corridor to the rear stairway and on through the narrow service alley. He hesitated at the end of the alley, glanced across the street at a lighted liquor store almost directly opposite, then went a few steps back into the alley where he placed his bundle on the ground behind a barrel of trash.
Crossing the street, he entered the liquor store and brusquely ordered, “Wrap up a couple of quarts of your cheapest gin. Use plenty of paper so it won’t break, and tie it up tight.”
Shayne turned his back to the clerk and pulled his hat brim low over his eyes, took three dollars from his wallet, and when the clerk said, “Here you are — is this wrapped to suit you?” he half turned, shoved the bills across the counter, said, “It’s okay, thanks,” and picked up his change.
In the darkness of the alley he untied the gin bottles, tossed them into the trash barrel, and wrapped the murder weapon neatly in the paper, tying it securely. He then sauntered to the street with the package inconspicuously under his arm, hailed a loitering taxi, and got in.
He said, “The St. Charles Hotel,” and laid the bundle on the floor as the cab slid away.
Three blocks away, Shayne suddenly exclaimed, “Hold it, buddy. Sorry, but I’ve just remembered something. I’ve got to get out here.”
The driver muttered something under his breath and pulled to the curb. Shayne got out and give him a dollar, saying, “That’ll make up for the short trip.” He noted the name of the cab and its number as it carried the damning murder evidence away, wrote them down in a small notebook, then whirled and long-legged it back to the Peloine Apartments.
The time was 11:14 when he strode briskly to the front entrance — 16 minutes had passed since he first discovered Barbara Little’s dead body.
The Peloine entrance was on a corner of the building, wide double doors standing invitingly open at the top of stone steps. A small foyer was lighted by a naked bulb in the ceiling. He found Margo Macon’s name over the mailbox numbered 303, and pressed the button. He waited a moment, wiping sweat from his face, then held the button down with a knobby forefinger for a long interval.
After another short wait, he deliberately pressed the button of apartment 301, under the name of Madame Le-grand, and started up the stairs, pounding his heels loudly on the worn carpeting.
A middle-aged woman confronted him in an open doorway as he reached the third floor. Her untidy black hair was shot with strands of white and she wore an exotic negligee which was grossly inept on her hard, thin body and accentuated her sharp features with snapping black eyes. She looked at Shayne with anger and suspicion and demanded, “What reason have you for ringing my bell at this time of the night?” She spoke with a pronounced accent and a nasal twang.
Shayne grinned. “I wasn’t ringing your bell.”
“I’ve been trying to get an answer from Miss Macon in three-oh-three. I have a date with her. I’m a little late and thought she might have fallen asleep,” Shayne explained.
“There has been enough bell ringing to wake up the dead,” the woman snapped. “It’s quite evident she doesn’t want to see you. If you are forcing yourself upon her—” She left an unfinished threat hanging in the air.
“She said she’d wait up for me,” Shayne persisted. “She knew I couldn’t get here until quite late.”
“I think you lie,” she said flatly. “Miss Macon had two girls for dinner, and she has already had one date since they left. This is a respectable house, young man, and I intend to report—”
“You say she has had a caller since her dinner guests left?” Shayne interrupted angrily. “A man?”
Her black eyes shifted away from his hard gaze. She wriggled her pointed nose. “It isn’t for me to say,” she began weakly, and started to back away.
Shayne caught her bony arms and said harshly, “You’ve intimated that Miss Macon hasn’t been acting in accordance with the rules of a respectable house. What are you hinting at?”
She lifted her chin and answered in a spiteful tone, “I am a respectable woman who works hard all day and need my sleep at night. Such things that go on — men coming and going the back way. With my apartment next door I can’t help seeing what happens.”
Shayne held her arm, pulling her with him to Barbara Little’s door. He knocked loudly, and while he waited, asked, “The back way, you say! On the third floor? What are you hinting at?”
“It isn’t a hint. With my own eyes I saw the man leap from her balcony to the hotel balcony opposite. And now you come—”
“And wake you up ringing her bell,” Shayne interrupted. He let go of her arm and rattled the knob, calling, “Margo! Wake up. It’s Mike.”
“See,” said the woman. “She pretends to be out to avoid you. If you are a gentleman you’ll go away.”
“You don’t understand,” Shayne told her wearily. “It’s important that I see—” He was rattling the knob again. It turned and the door opened. He shoved it wide, saying, “There’s something strange here. She was expecting me.” He reached inside and found a wall switch, flooded the room with light and exclaimed, “My God!”
The woman pushed past him, screamed, and swayed back, crying wildly, “Mon Dieu! It is she! The blood — murdered! La pauvre enfant!”
Shayne said grimly, “It’s murder, all right.” He went directly to the telephone and called police headquarters. He reported, “There’s a dead woman at number three-oh-three Peloine Apartments.”
The woman was jabbering hysterically, “Mon Dieu — de penser que je dormais so pres d’elle pendent qu’on la tuait!” She waved her arms wildly, sank into a chair, and buried her face in her hands.
“What are you saying?” Shayne demanded. “What do you know about this?”
“Forgive me,” she said meekly, “I was only saying that it is oh! so horrible that I slept next door while it happened. If only I had called the police when I saw the man—” She shuddered violently.
“The man who jumped from her balcony to the hotel?”
“Yes. I saw him clearly. Mon Dieu! Forgive me for the bad thoughts I had about Miss Macon. But how could I guess? In these days one does not know what to think or do.”
“How long ago was that?”
“Half an hour — an hour ago.” She shook her head despairingly. “If I had but known,” she moaned. She pulled herself up from the chair and straightened her shoulders as though shock and grief had suddenly been whipped from her. She moved resolutely to the table and started to stack the dinner dishes.
“Don’t touch anything,” Shayne said sharply. “The police will want everything left as it was — for fingerprints and such.”
“But these dishes,” she protested, “can have nothing to tell the police. It is my duty to clear the table. They are from dinner which I cooked and served with my own hands.”
“You’ll have to wait until the police have come and gone. You say you served the dinner here tonight?”
“Yes. It is my living — catering with my most excellent French cuisine. Miss Macon, poor child, was not good with cooking.”
Shayne said, “Come sit down. Who did you serve here? Tell me what happened this evening.”
She sat stiffly upright in a chair and Shayne sat opposite her. She said, “I know nothing. The dinner was very informal, as you see. Three girls only. Miss Macon dismissed me after the serving. In my room I heard her guests leave and I came to inquire whether I might clear away the dishes. She said, no, that she expected another visitor soon. So I retired and was wakened by some sound. I got up and looked to see a man going from her balcony to the hotel. I thought it a clandestine assignation and made no report. I was on the verge of sleep again when your ringing wakened me,” she ended in a resentful tone.
“The girls — Miss Macon’s guests — do you know them? Know where they live?” Shayne persisted.
“I do not think I should answer more questions from you. To the police I will tell everything. I will be in my room when they come.” Madame Legrand started to get up from the chair.
Shayne said, “No. You must stay until the police come. They will want you to verify my story. It won’t be very long now.”
As he stopped speaking the scream of a siren swelled and faded to a low moan in Dumaine Street. Shayne lit a cigarette and stepped back unobtrusively into a corner as feet pounded up the stairs and Captain Denton bustled in through the open door.
The precinct captain was followed by Sergeant Parks and a burly officer whom Shayne had not seen before. None of the three men noticed Shayne in his corner. Denton walked to the murdered girl and stood over her. He grunted, “She’s plenty dead. Call Doc Matteson, Parks — and tell Homicide to get on the job.” Captain Denton turned to the Frenchwoman as Parks went to the telephone. “Who are you? Did you phone in the report? What do you know about it?”
“I am Madame Legrand,” she answered, “and I know nothing. He called the police.” She nodded toward Shayne.
Denton turned slowly. He reached into his breast pocket for a cigar, bit off the end, and savagely spat a fragment of tobacco on the floor.
He said, “I might have known you’d be mixed up in this.”
Shayne shrugged and said, “I always like to get in on the ground floor.”
“Why did you bop her?” snarled Denton. “That the only way you can handle a dame in the Quarter?”
Shayne said, “That lacks a hell of a lot of being funny.”
“All right. Give.” Denton crossed the room and set himself solidly before the redhead and chewed his unlit cigar across his mouth.
“I had a date with Miss Macon. I was detained by a couple of your boys.” Shayne touched his bruised face tenderly with the tips of his fingers. “Before I could get back here to keep my date, somebody else had got to the girl.”
“Macon, eh? That her name?”
“Friend of yours?”
“Sort of. Daughter of a friend. He asked me to look her up when I hit town.”
“And your story is gonna be that you just walked in by chance and found her like this? Hell, you’d better think up a better one fast.”
Shayne nodded toward the Frenchwoman. “She’ll verify my story. I punched her bell by mistake when I was trying to rouse the girl. She came in with me.”
Denton took the cigar from his mouth and frowned at it. He turned from Shayne to face Madame Legrand and barked, “Well, what about it? What are you doing here?”
Madame Legrand’s black eyes flashed angrily. She shook a trembling finger at Shayne and burst into a wild babble of French. She stamped her foot and her eyes glittered with fear.
Denton yelled, “Hold it! Wait a minute. Don’t tell me you can’t speak English. I heard you a while ago.”
Shayne said, “Madame Legrand always has hysterics in French. She can go faster that way. If you wouldn’t scare the living daylights out of her you might find out something.”
“Shut up,” Denton barked. “I’m running this show.” He turned to the woman again. “Let’s have your story.”
“He made me stay,” she screamed. “He made me come in. I live in the next apartment and I know nothing about this. Only what I have told him.”
“Tell me everything you told him,” Denton ordered. She lowered herself into a chair and began a tight-lipped recital. When she told him of seeing the man leap from the balcony of 303 to the hotel balcony opposite, Denton pounced.
“Get out on the balcony and take a look, Parks,” he ordered. Then to the woman: “Describe the man you saw. What time was it?”
“There was not much light. Not enough to see him well. It was, perhaps, an hour ago. I was in bed and did not look at the time.”
Parks came back from the balcony. “Looks like a good bet. Not more’n two feet from this balcony to a dinky one in the next building.”
“Get the number of that room. Look it over. Find out who’s in it — all about it.”
The sergeant hurried out. Denton turned and scowled at the dead girl. “Been dead about an hour. That checks.” He said to Shayne, “Where were you an hour ago?”
“Do I need an alibi?”
“You’re likely to.”
“I’ll dig one up when I need it,” Shayne promised, and demanded in disgust, “Why in hell doesn’t Homicide get on the job so we can have an intelligent investigation? I have a personal interest in this case.”
Denton clamped his teeth hard on his cigar. He turned to Madame Legrand and asked, “What time did this man come up? How did you get into this apartment?”
“It was a little after eleven. I asked him why he disturbed decent people at so late an hour and he was most anxious that Miss Macon should reply to him. He pounded on the door and turned the knob and it came open.”
“Unlocked, eh?” Denton transferred his suspicious gaze to Shayne.
The detective nodded blandly. “I didn’t jimmy it if that’s what you’re getting at.”
Light suddenly flashed through the French doors and windows of Shayne’s hotel room across the way. As Denton whirled in that direction, Sergeant Parks’s excited voice came from the opposite balcony: “I don’t think you’re going to need Homicide to hang this case up to dry, Captain. Didn’t you say that redhead’s name is Mike Shayne?”
Denton stepped onto the balcony. He nodded to Parks. “That’s it. How does it tie up?”
“In a tight knot.” The sergeant’s voice was exultant. “This is Shayne’s room — rented this afternoon. And get this, Captain. He acted plenty suspicious when he rented it. Asked the clerk about Apartment three-oh-three in the Peloine and wanted the room adjoining it. He slipped the clerk a ten-spot to fix it for him to have this special room. How do you like that?”
“I like it fine,” Denton told him. He went back into the room to face Shayne. “Got an answer to that?”
Shayne said, “Sure. But I’m not wasting my answers on you. You’re nothing but a goddamned precinct bull. When the dicks come I’ll do my talking.”
Denton’s face reddened. He thrust his head forward, glaring at Shayne. He started to close the gap between them when the sound of tramping feet on the stairs and in the hallway stopped him.
A slender, middle-aged man sauntered through the doorway with his hands in the pockets of a blue serge suit. A cigarette drooped laxly from one corner of his mouth. He nodded curtly and said, “All right, Denton, I’ll take over.” Men tramped in behind him — photographers, fingerprint men, and Doctor Matteson, the medical examiner. They shunted Denton and his harnessmen aside as they began a methodical investigation of the body and the death scene.
“Sure, Inspector. Sure,” Denton said to the slender man in plain clothes. “This is your baby, all right. But there’s not much left for your smart boys to find out. If you’re looking for a killer, there you are.” He gestured toward Shayne, his black eyes triumphant.
The inspector lifted grayish brows at Shayne. Cold blue eyes surveyed him with ironic detachment. “Nice of you to hang around for the pinch,” he commented quietly.
“I’ve got him dead to rights,” Denton blustered. “Name’s Shayne. Been in trouble here before. A two-bit private op who got run out of town years ago and just got up the guts to sneak back. Thought he could pull a fast one and get out before we heard about him being here.”
The inspector said, “Shayne?” He studied the redhead an instant longer, lifted one shoulder slightly and turned away. “Fair enough, Denton. You’ll get credit if it’s coming to you. What have you got on him?”
Denton went into details with great gusto. When he finished relating the incriminating evidence against Shayne the captain whirled on Madame Legrand and demanded, “This is the man you saw sneak out of here and leap across the balcony, isn’t it? Look at him? Isn’t he the one?”
“I cannot say, Monsieur. I cannot say yes and I cannot say no. It was not light, you understand.” She spread out her hands in a gesture of futility.
Parks came across from the hotel balcony and entered the room. He drew Denton aside and conferred excitedly for a moment. The captain nodded and chewed happily on his cigar, turned to the inspector and said, “My man has some more important dope. Mind if I ask Shayne a couple of questions?”
“Go ahead,” the inspector answered.
Denton pivoted until his blunt jaw was within six inches of Shayne’s gaunt face. He asked, “Where have you been all evening?”
Shayne said, “For the inspector’s benefit, I’ll tell you. A couple of your tough boys jumped me a little after dark — after you’d told them I wasn’t welcome in your precinct. They bounced me around and jugged me on a false d.-and-d. While I was in jail, this girl was deprived of my protection — and murdered.”
“That’s just too damned bad,” purred Denton. “Do you happen to know what time you were released?”
“Not exactly. About ten-forty-five.”
“It happens to have been ten-thirty-six. Parks just called headquarters and confirmed it.” Denton darted a glance at the detective inspector to be sure he was listening. “How long has the girl been dead?” he asked the medical examiner.
The doctor was getting up from beside the body. “Not more than an hour and a half. Not less than forty minutes.” He looked at his watch. “Say between ten and ten-fifty.”
Denton swung on Shayne again. “All right — you turned up here ringing Miss Macon’s bell at eleven-fifteen, mighty anxious for a witness to see you discover the body. Where were you during those forty-five minutes between the time you were released and eleven-fifteen?”
Shayne said calmly, “I needed a drink. And I had to clean up a little after my going-over before I kept a date with a girl.”
Denton’s black mustache quivered. “The clerk at your hotel says you haven’t been back to your room this evening. Where’d you go to clean up?”
Shayne said irritably, “I don’t know the name of every joint where I go for a drink and a crack at the lavatory. What the hell? The clerk’s testimony clears me. If I haven’t been back to my room how could I have jumped the railings and murdered the girl?”
“Suppose you tell us.” Denton stepped aside and motioned to Parks. “Here, Sergeant — let Shayne have a look at your stuff and explain how that got in his room.”
The sergeant knelt on the floor and solemnly unwrapped a newspaper from a bloodstained bath towel and wash cloth. When they were spread Out, Denton asked the inspector, “From the looks of things around here wouldn’t you say the murderer might have got some of the girl’s blood on him? He’d be in a hurry to wash it off. And that’s just what Shayne did. There’s the evidence. In his own bathroom not ten feet from the body. What more do you want?”
The inspector leaned over and poked his forefinger at the damp towel and wash cloth. When he straightened up his eyes were agate-hard. “Want to make a statement, Shayne?”
“Maybe,” said Shayne, “the murderer took advantage of an empty room and washed up with my towel.”
“We can find out by a chemical analysis,” the inspector stated.
“A blood test will only show the type of blood. If it’s the same as the girl’s you won’t prove anything,” Shayne protested. “Only that it might be hers.”
The inspector shook his head. “There are other tests. Perspiration, for instance. After we’ve made the tests we’ll know whether you used that towel or not, Shayne.”
“All right,” Shayne admitted angrily, “like a damned fool I forgot I’d left that stuff lying there in plain sight. But hell, I didn’t know a murder had been committed next door. I did go up to my room to clean up before coming here to keep my date.”
“Don’t forget the blood test. If it’s the girl’s type and not yours—” The inspector’s voice was coldly warning.
“I’m not worried about that. I know damn well it’s my blood on that towel. Of course, if her type is the same as mine it’s not going to help my story very much,” Shayne conceded.
“Why did you lie about not going to your room?” Denton barked.
“What would you do?” Shayne flared. “Why shouldn’t I protect myself? I know I’m in a jam. People jumping from a death room to mine — and you eager to jump at anything to put me away because you’re afraid I’ll uncover some of your dirty stuff here in the Quarter. Sure I lied about it.”
“But the clerk says you didn’t go to your room all evening,” the inspector reminded him.
“I went up the back stairs. I looked like hell and hated to go through the lobby looking like that.”
“He’s fast on the trigger,” Denton warned the inspector. “He sneaked in the back way to his room, stepped over here and did the job he was paid to do in New Orleans, jumped back and slipped down the back way again and out to the front to put up a show of innocence and discover the body of the girl he’d murdered. Why, Shayne? Who is she? What’s this got to do with the cock-and-bull story you handed me at the station this evening?”
Shayne turned his back on Denton and appealed to the Homicide men. “Does a harness bull conduct murder investigations in New Orleans? Can’t you see he hates my guts and can’t see anybody in the picture but me?”
The inspector lifted one grayish eyebrow. “Thus far,” he confessed, “I fail to see anyone else in the picture either.”
“Hell, you’ve been influenced by Denton’s spouting off,” Shayne argued. “What earthly motive would I have for killing the girl?”
“That,” said the inspector curtly, “will be worth looking into.”
“She’s the daughter of a client,” Shayne growled. “I came here to look her up, sure. I had her address and I bribed the clerk to give me the room opposite hers so I could keep an eye on her. Everything falls into line if you look at it the right way.”
“The way you’d like to have us look at it?” asked the inspector in a mild voice.
“Put it that way if you want. Before your men go,” Shayne said wearily, “you might have them dust the railing of my balcony and the interior of my room for fingerprints. According to Madame Legrand’s statement, the murderer must have got away through my room.”
“Sure,” agreed the inspector. “How do you suppose he got into your room from the balcony and out of it into the hotel?” he went on casually.
“I left my French doors open for fresh air. And my room door has a snap lock that opens from the inside. When I came back to my room my door was closed and the shades drawn.”
“Just like I told you, Inspector,” Denton put in aggressively. “Shayne is plenty slick. He’s always got an answer ready even if it isn’t always a good one.”
The inspector nodded slowly. He made a slow survey of the room. His men had finished their work and two men from the coroner’s office were waiting to take the body out. He asked, “Did you find the death weapon?”
“Not a sign of anything like that,” one of the men told him. “We’ve covered everything inside and out.”
The inspector said, “Remove the body,” and walked over to Madame Legrand. “And you, Madame,” he asked, “live in the adjoining apartment?”
“I do,” she answered stiffly. She stood up. “If that’s all, Monsieur, may I go now? I shall go to my bed but not to sleep. Not again tonight.” She shuddered and looked at the bloodstained carpet from which the girl’s body had been lifted.
“Just a few more questions,” said the inspector in a gentle voice. “I’d like to hear everything you can tell me about the murder.”
“I’ve already got her story,” Denton blustered. “It don’t amount to much. She cooked dinner for the Macon girl and two others, heard the girls leave about ten, and later woke up and saw Shayne jumping across from here to his hotel. Isn’t that right, lady?”
“The first part, yes. But I do not know whether it was this man I saw.” She studied Shayne, shook her head, and said, “I think it was not,” with conviction.
Denton laughed. “That’s the way dames are, Inspector. They tighten up just when you think you’ve got a case sewed up. Let me talk to her a little. I can maybe make her remember better who it was she saw.”
The inspector ignored Denton. He asked, “These girls who were here for dinner, Madame — do you know them? Where they live?”
“No, Monsieur. One was Miss Hamilton. Lucile Hamilton. She has visited Miss Macon before. The other girl I think they called Evalyn.”
“You don’t know how we could get in touch with them?”
“No, Monsieur. I do not know.”
“What does it matter, Inspector?” Denton broke in. “You’re holding Shayne, aren’t you?”
The inspector said, “Yes. I’m holding Shayne. Come along Shayne.”
When Shayne and inspector Quinlan reached the sidewalk, police were holding back curious spectators while the covered body of the murdered girl was being placed in an ambulance on a stretcher.
A taxi pulled up behind the ambulance and a man got out hastily. He wore a pearl-gray derby and gray spats to match. He was slender, of about medium height, and he hooked a light Malacca cane over his left arm as he took out his wallet to pay the driver.
Shayne caught Quinlan’s arm and drew him back against the building, murmuring, “Let’s watch this.”
The inspector looked at Shayne with a puzzled frown. Shayne gestured toward the man who was turning away from the cab. Light from the street lamp showed the lined face of Mr. Drake beneath the brim of the derby. A policeman intercepted him as he started toward the apartment-house doorway. They were close enough for Shayne and the inspector to hear the bluecoat say, “Wait a minute, Mister. You got any business in there?”
“Naturally,” the man snapped in a high-pitched voice. For the first time, he appeared aware of the crowd and the cops, the waiting ambulance and the body on the stretcher. He stared about nervously, asked, “Has there been — an accident?”
The cop said, “A little accident — like murder.”
The foppishly dressed man repeated, “Murder? Dear me, how tragic.”
“For the gal, yeh. You live in this apartment?”
“No. A — girl, you say?” Drake sucked in his breath, drawing his lips tight to indicate complete disapproval. He stepped back, murmuring, “My errand isn’t really urgent.” He turned to see whether his cab had pulled away.
Shayne took a long step forward and called, “Mr. Drake!” sharply.
The man wheeled and looked around in confusion. Shayne stepped closer and said, “This is what the cops left of me.”
Drake stammered, “You’re the man—”
“The name is Shayne.” He lifted his voice to the white-coated orderlies who were sliding the stretcher into the ambulance, “Hold it a minute, boys. I’d like to have Mr. Drake see the victim.”
Inspector Quinlan had moved unobtrusively to stand beside Shayne. His cold blue eyes were puzzled, but he made no effort to interfere.
Drake’s jaw sagged at Shayne’s words. He shot a startled glance at Shayne and then at the stretcher which was being drawn from the ambulance. “I really don’t see why I should look at a — a corpse.”
“You will after you take a look at the girl,” Shayne assured him grimly. He caught Drake’s arm, felt it tremble in his grasp as he swung Drake about and led him to the stretcher.
One of the orderlies pulled the sheet down to expose the ghastly, bloodstained face of Barbara Little to the pitiless light of the street lamp. After one brief glance Drake shuddered violently and turned his lace away. “It’s — good gracious, it can’t be — Barbara!” he tremoloed in a high falsetto.
“Take a good look,” Shayne urged.
Drake turned his head back slowly. “It — it is Barbara, isn’t it?”
Shayne stepped back and said slowly, “I think Inspector Quinlan has a few questions to ask you.”
Drake turned. His lined features were haggard. “I don’t understand,” he faltered. “If that’s actually Barbara Little — but she called me just this evening. She asked me to come to her. I have the message right here.” He dug frantically in a vest pocket.
Quinlan nodded curtly to two of his men and said, “Bring him along — and let’s get going.” He went ahead of Shayne to his car and got in, left the door open, and started the motor. Shayne got in beside him, and Quinlan said, “You’d better start talking. I know you by reputation, so don’t waste time on past history.”
“God, man, can’t you understand I’m working on a case?” Shayne burst out with harsh impatience. “Drake is the man I’ve been looking for — the man I was warned against when I took the case. The girl is Barbara Little. Margo Macon was strictly a phony name. Her father sent me here to guard her against a man who answers Drake’s description in every respect. He’s a dope-head and has had a vicious influence over the girl in the past. She broke away from him, cured herself of the habit, then got frantic when she felt the urge returning. She ran away from home and came here. Her father was afraid he’d find her and drive her back into the habit or to suicide or worse. This man Drake contacted Captain Denton yesterday, asking where such a girl might go in the Quarter to get back on the stuff. Well, he seems to have got to her as soon as I did,” he ended angrily.
Quinlan drove slowly. The quizzical, puzzled expression seemed permanently fixed on his finely chiseled features. “How do you know Drake had contacted Denton?”
“Denton told me so. I went to ask him the same question — that is, to get in touch with the dope traffic in the Quarter. I already knew who the girl was and where she lived. Denton got scared, and mad, when I told him Chief McCracken had sent me, and threw me out.”
Quinlan drummed his finger tips on the steering wheel. “You say the girl’s father knew Drake was here?”
“I don’t think he knew it, but he was afraid Drake might try to follow her. He intimated his fear of rather horrible depravities the girl might be led into, without giving any details.”
Quinlan nodded. He said dryly, “Drake doesn’t look so sinister.”
Shayne moved his big hands impatiently. “You know as well as I that you can’t judge the morals of a narcotic user by his appearance. They’re sly.”
“Is it your idea,” Quinlan asked suddenly, “that Drake murdered the girl?”
“Somebody murdered her,” Shayne argued. “Mr. Little had some such fear. It seemed to be an obsession with him. He hinted Drake had threatened her life the other time she pulled away from him.”
Quinlan sighed and said, “It sounds like a ten-cent melodrama.”
“All murders have the tang of melodrama somewhere along the line,” Shayne reminded him.
“I know. And your story sounds like something you dreamed up on the spur of the moment to turn attention toward something else. Denton uncovered a lot of stuff against you, Shayne.”
Shayne laughed harshly. “Do you think I killed my own client?”
“I’m not thinking,” Quinlan said curtly. “I’m looking at evidence.” He parked in front of the police building.
Another car slid up to the curb as they got out. Two officers stepped out and Drake followed them, tapping his cane as he moved between the towering cops and looking smaller than Shayne remembered him.
Quinlan led the way into the office in the rear. Shayne pulled a chair over to the side of the room and lit a cigarette as Drake was ushered into the inspector’s presence. His face had an unhealthy, pasty look, and his body appeared to have shrunk inside his exquisitely tailored garments. His hands shook as he laid derby and cane carefully on the inspector’s desk. His head was completely bald, smooth and wax-white.
He placed the palms of his hands flat on the desk and bent forward to address Quinlan in a voice that shook with nervousness and wrath. “I demand to know why I have been haled in here like a criminal.”
“I want to ask you a few questions,” Quinlan said quietly. He settled himself in a swivel chair. “Sit down, Drake, and take it easy.”
Drake sank into a chair which one of the men pushed up for him. He looked bewildered and forlorn. “The shock,” he murmured. “I was completely overcome — at first. That girl, if it was Barbara—”
“What do you mean if it was Barbara?” Quinlan asked. “Didn’t you recognize her?”
Drake blinked his eyes and wet his thin, shriveled lips. He whined, “Actually, I didn’t look closely. That is—” His shudder was delicate, a slight tremor, and he lifted one hand. The nails were manicured and polished, with a faint rosy tint that hinted the application of artificial color. “The condition — you understand, Captain, that I couldn’t bear to—”
“Most men have a natural reluctance in such cases. They don’t relish looking at their dead victims.” The inspector’s voice was suddenly harsh.
Drake’s color changed from pasty white to gray except for a pinkish tint on each cheek. He stammered, “Surely you don’t think that I — that I — surely you can’t think that.”
“Why not?” Inspector Quinlan’s cold blue eyes stared at the little man. His chin pressed against his tie, and the skin appeared to have tightened over his fine features.
“But — but—” Drake’s flaccid left cheek twitched uncontrollably, the faint tint standing out in a pink blush against the gray flesh. “But I was on my way to see Barbara,” he panted. “That should prove I didn’t — Good heavens! Do you think I’d have gone there if I’d known she’d been murdered?”
Quinlan’s chin moved against his tie. “It’s not a bad supposition. Murderers often have a morbid impulse to go back to view their work — search for any clues they may have left behind in the excitement. You may have been dumb enough to think it would make an alibi,” he added casually.
Unnoticed, and some distance from them, Shayne grinned. Inspector Quinlan was undoubtedly clever. Sitting there behind his desk he was not the mild-mannered man he had been in Apartment 303. There was no mercy in his voice or in his eyes.
“Really, Captain, I’m overwhelmed,” Drake whined. He wriggled his body in the chair, crossed his skinny legs. “I don’t know what else to say.”
Quinlan let the swivel chair come forward and reached for a pad, took a pencil from his pocket and said, “What’s your full name?”
“Edmund Drake. I—”
“Just answer my questions. Age?”
“Forty — ah — six. I don’t see—”
“Occupation?” Quinlan scribbled on the pad without looking up.
“Broker. Ah — retired. I assure you, Captain—”
“New York. That is, the Angelus Hotel at present.”
“You were acquainted with the deceased?”
“Of course. I’ve told you—”
“When did you last see her alive?” Quinlan’s questioning continued, even and dispassionate.
“I — not for months. I tell you, Captain, this is absurd.”
“You came to New Orleans specifically to see her?”
“Yes — no — that is, well, in a way.” Drake was beginning to get hold of himself. His thin shoulders were rigidly upright, his head at a dignified angle.
“When did you succeed in contacting her?”
“I hadn’t,” he answered defiantly. “That is, not until she telephoned me this evening.”
“At what time did she telephone you?”
“I have the message here.” He drew a slip of paper from his vest pocket and studied it. “It’s marked ten-eighteen by the hotel clerk.”
Quinlan held out his hand for the slip of paper. He said, “That was about three hours ago,” glancing at his wrist watch.
“Of course. But I didn’t get it until I returned to my hotel a short time ago.”
Quinlan’s blue eyes surveyed Drake with cold appraisal, then read the message on the slip of paper. “There’s nothing here that indicates the girl wanted you to call on her. Wasn’t it presumptuous on your part to think she expected you to visit her apartment three hours after she called — after midnight?”
“I was afraid it was urgent. I was surprised to receive the message. I thought I’d better see her.”
Quinlan smiled thinly. “At one-thirty in the morning? A girl whom you hadn’t seen for months? You didn’t try to telephone her first?”
“No.” Edmund Drake licked his lips and glanced around anxiously. “I took a taxi right over there.”
“Where were you all evening?”
“I — was out.” He glanced covertly at Shayne.
“I don’t see — Captain. Are you intimating that I need to produce an alibi?”
“Unless you want to be charged with murder,” Quinlan assured him coldly.
“Preposterous! Why should I murder my own niece!” Shayne’s lanky body jerked violently erect from its comfortable position. He stared at Drake. Quinlan’s forehead became a mass of horizontal wrinkles above his thin grayish brows. The cold, impersonal expression of his eyes changed once more to a puzzled look as he glanced at Shayne.
Shayne met his glance and shook his disheveled mop of red hair hopelessly while his right thumb and forefinger massaged the lobe of his left ear.
“Your niece?” Quinlan asked in a casual tone.
“Exactly. I am Barbara Little’s uncle.”
Quinlan let out a long sigh of disgust. He turned to Shayne and demanded, “What does that do to your cock-and-bull story about this man’s relationship with the girl?”
Before he could answer, Edmund Drake rose to his feet and demanded caustically, “Yes, that’s what I want to know. Who are you, and what right did you have to accost me and drag me into — into this?”
Shayne ignored the little man. He said to Quinlan hoarsely and with complete honesty, “I’ll be damned if I know, Inspector. I’ll lay ten to one he’s lying. Hell, he’s got to be the man. There couldn’t be two men like him if you looked the world over. Look at him,” he went on savagely, striding forward to tower over Edmund Drake. “Could there be two men who fit his description — out of captivity? Both of them in New Orleans at the same time? Both looking for Barbara Little? That’s just a little too pat,” he continued. “I don’t know what he thinks he’ll gain by a foolish lie like that. I guess he’s panicky to think up something to clear himself.”
Drake pushed his chair back and got up. He straightened his trembling knees and peered up into Shayne’s bleak visage. “I demand once more to know who you are,” he said in a choked voice.
Shayne’s gray eyes roved over the foppish figure, came back to rest on his tinted cheeks. He said, “I’m not the queen of the fairies.”
“Sit down, Shayne,” Quinlan’s voice barked with authority. “I’m running this show and, by God, I’ll get to the bottom of it.”
Shayne said, “Thanks. That’s all I ask.”
Edmund Drake remained on his feet. He watched Shayne sit down, then turned to Quinlan. “I think I deserve an explanation,” he said testily. “Why was I brought here to undergo such an interrogation?”
Inspector Quinlan said, “A girl has been murdered.”
“My niece. Yes.” He nodded his head several times. “And because she telephoned my hotel this evening — because I hurried to her as soon as I received the message. Does that make me a suspect?”
“You haven’t explained where you were while she was being murdered,” Quinlan told him. He held a pencil poised above the pad.
“There are thousands of people in New Orleans who haven’t been called on to produce an alibi,” Drake broke out irritably. “Why should I be singled out?”
The inspector settled once more in the swivel chair, letting it spring back to a comfortable position. “Perhaps you’d better tell him, Shayne. You fingered him — and not for the girl’s uncle.”
Shayne nudged his chair closer to the desk, sat down again, and muttered, “There’s something screwy about the whole setup. I gave you my end of it straight. How can this man be Barbara Little’s uncle when he fits the description of the guy I was hired to keep away from the girl?”
“I don’t know,” Quinlan said wearily, “but you’d better think fast. One of you is lying like hell.”
“I demand to be heard,” Drake demanded in his ineffective falsetto. “I have not been shown the courtesy of an explanation of why he — ah — fingered me — or why I was brought here.” He sat down with great dignity, folding his pasty-white hands across his concave stomach. “What preposterous insinuations,” he added, “is this man bringing against me?”
Shayne stood up and circled his chair, yanked it around and straddled it with his arms folded across the back. He growled, “Just that you’re a dope peddler — and worse. You had a hold on this girl once and refused to let her go. You threatened her life, but she broke away from you. When you got your filthy hands on her again and she refused to play along a second time, you bumped her off. Hell,” he ended disgustedly, “I’ve got your whole history. You can’t talk yourself out of facts. And I can prove every word of it.”
Edmund Drake’s red-veined eyes glittered queerly. He shook his bald head and turned back to Quinlan. He said, “This man is a maniac, or else he is lying for some purpose of his own. I can prove who I am. I can easily prove my relationship to Barbara Little.”
Inspector Quinlan said, “It sounds crazy to me. Right now it’s your word, Drake, against Shayne’s. He looked at Shayne and said, “Produce your proof.”
Shayne took a long drag on his cigarette. His eyes were narrowed upon Drake as the man unbuttoned his coat, reached to the inside pocket, and drew out a pigskin wallet. Drake produced a handful of identification cards and traveler’s checks and spread them on the desk. “I think these will be sufficient to establish my identity,” he said.
Quinlan glanced at them casually. “You seem to be Edmund Drake,” he said, “but that doesn’t prove you’re the girl’s uncle. How about it, Shayne? You know anything about an uncle named Drake?”
Shayne said, “No.”
“Your client — the murdered girl’s father — didn’t mention an uncle by the name of Drake?” Quinlan asked.
“The name doesn’t mean anything either way. How,” he asked Drake, “does the uncle business come in?”
“My wife is Barbara’s aunt — her father’s sister, his only sister,” Drake supplied.
“Wait a minute,” Shayne said. “Is your wife in New Orleans with you?”
“My wife is in New York.” Drake made a point of contemptuously ignoring Shayne. He spoke directly to Quinlan. “She is ill, confined to her bed.”
Shayne drew in a long breath. He said to the inspector, “Ask him when he last heard from his wife.”
Quinlan turned inquiring eyes upon Drake and he said, “Not since I left New York three days ago.”
“Your wife was critically ill, not expected to live when you left her,” Shayne said. “Does she know you’re here? Does she have your address?”
Simultaneously the inspector and Drake looked at Shayne. Drake said, “She has had a long and lingering illness. When I left her she was in no condition to discuss my destination with me. Her physician fears the end may be near.”
Shayne exploded, “With your wife on her deathbed, you go off on a pleasure jaunt to New Orleans?”
“I do not believe,” said Mr. Drake, “that my reason for making this trip is the subject under discussion.”
Shayne said to Quinlan, “You can see the man is lying. He doesn’t even know that his wife, J. P. Little’s sister, died in New York this afternoon — the woman he claims to be his wife.”
There was a moment of dead silence in the office. Inspector Quinlan closed his eyes wearily.
Drake shrank back in his chair, his breath making a hissing sound between his shriveled, set lips. “My wife — dead? This afternoon?” His words were barely audible. Then he roused. His voice rose to a high pitch. “I don’t believe it. It’s a trick.” He appealed to the inspector. “I don’t know what his motive is, but he is evidently trying to incriminate me.”
“Where did you get your information, Shayne?” Quinlan asked.
“From Mr. Little. I called him in Miami after contacting his daughter — as I promised him. He had just received the death message and was taking the train to New York at once. Mr. Little is the woman’s brother,” he went on forcibly. “This guy claims to be her husband, yet he didn’t know of her death until I told him. That should be proof enough that his whole story is a lie.”
“How about it, Drake?” Quinlan asked.
Edmund Drake sat hunched in the chair. His eyes were closed. His lips moved as though he silently repeated a prayer. His appearance was that of a man stricken with grief.
“How about it?” Quinlan demanded again.
Drake’s red-veined eyes opened slowly. A film of moisture had gathered in them. He lifted one delicate hand and let it fall limply in his lap. “I don’t know. I — it’s hard to accept. Even when one knows death is inevitable, it’s always a terrible shock.”
“How do you explain,” Quinlan pounded out, “that her death is news to you? Why were you not informed immediately?”
“I–I see what you mean, Captain,” Drake said, “but it’s really quite simple. They have not yet received my New Orleans address. I wrote yesterday, giving it — as soon as I registered at the Angelus.” He closed his eyes again.
Quinlan glanced at Shayne. Shayne said, “A perfect picture of a devoted husband. He beats it away from his wife’s deathbed with no arrangements with anyone to keep in touch with him. He doesn’t take the trouble to wire or telephone his address when he arrives, but writes a letter. I don’t get it. It doesn’t make sense.”
“It makes as much sense as all the rest,” Quinlan said. “All I have is your story of the other side. What proof have you that any of your dope is true?”
“None at the moment,” Shayne admitted. “I haven’t even the picture of the girl to bear me out. What did you do with that picture of Barbara after you killed her?” he demanded of Drake.
The foppish little man opened his eyes slowly and looked at Shayne. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he moaned. “What picture?”
Shayne threw his cigarette on the floor and ground it out savagely with the toe of his shoe. “Hell,” he growled, “I’m beginning to wonder who I am. But I know this,” he went on, his eyes turned on Quinlan, “this man Edmund Drake is the one Joseph Little warned me against when he sent me here. I took the job in good faith — when I didn’t want a job — but he persuaded me. If he’s Barbara Little’s uncle, I’m a—” His voice trailed off into a snort.
Edmund Drake lifted his head and straightened his body. “Joseph Little hates me,” he said in a dull voice. “He has always hated me — ever since I married his sister. I don’t know what sort of ghastly hoax this is. I came here to see Barbara. I admit that. It — there was a personal reason. Joseph — Barbara’s father — wanted to keep us apart. He refused to give me her address here. Elizabeth, my wife, has been like a mother to the girl. Joseph resented that. He resented the ties that were stronger than filial affection. I’m sure that he has influenced her against us — kept Barbara away from her aunt during her illness. Now — they are both gone.” He slumped in his chair, a picture of grief and dejection.
Inspector Quinlan said in a kindly voice, “I’m sorry you’ve had to endure two such brutal shocks in one evening, Drake. You’d better go to your hotel and get some rest.”
“I thank you, Captain,” Drake said brokenly, and got up. He reached for his derby and cane. “I shall leave for New York at once, of course.”
“No. Better not do that,” Quinlan said casually. “I think we’ll want you to stick around until we get everything straightened out. The inquest, you know.”
“You mean — I won’t be allowed to leave New Orleans, to make arrangements for my wife’s funeral — to be there?”
“Not until you have my permission. Stay at the hotel where I can get in touch with you.” Quinlan got up and went around the desk. He put his hand on Drake’s shoulder as they turned toward the door.
Drake rewarded the inspector’s friendly manner with a wan smile. “I quite understand. You have your duty to perform. After all, I can do nothing for Elizabeth now, and Barbara’s murder is still unsolved. I quite understand,” he repeated, and made a pathetic attempt to square his shoulders as he marched through the doorway.
Quinlan closed the door and turned to the plain-clothes men who had stood silently by during the questioning. “Take over,” he said. “One of you go to the hotel and get on the switchboard. Check his movements tonight, particularly when he makes a long-distance call. And be sure to check with the operator as to the time he received that telephone call from the girl. If he leaves the hotel, follow him. Get it?”
The men nodded and went out.
Inspector Quinlan stood in the doorway watching them, then turned and went back to his desk. He sighed as he sat down. He did not look at Shayne.
Shayne said, “What do you make of it, Inspector?”
“I think he’s telling the truth,” Quinlan said irritably.
“And that makes me a liar.”
“That’s what I don’t get.” Quinlan leaned back in his chair and subjected Shayne to a long, frank appraisal with his cold blue eyes. “That’s the hell of it. What can either of you gain by lying? He’d be a fool to claim relationship with the girl if he couldn’t prove it. On the other hand, you’d be a fool to whip up a story that won’t stand investigation. I know your reputation, Shayne — from your New Orleans days and from reports on you in Miami. You’ve been called a lot of things by a lot of people, but ‘fool’ isn’t one of them.”
“Thanks,” said Shayne shortly.
“Where does that leave me?”
“I’ll be damned if I know,” Shayne said morosely. “What did you make of Drake? I mean — his personality?”
Quinlan smiled for the first time since he had met him. He said, “A spot of rouge and polished fingernails don’t always tell the whole story.”
“I doubt it. Maybe, off and on. He’s not a regular. Experimental, perhaps. A lot of perversions take queer turns.”
“What the hell?” Shayne got up and began pacing back and forth in front of Quinlan’s desk. “Did Little feed me a sack of stuff? Why? What reason could he have had to get me down here?” He spread out his big hands as he stalked angrily to and fro.
“You’d better ask Mr. Little,” Quinlan advised.
Shayne came back to stand in front of the desk. “That’s just what I want to do.” He looked at an electric clock behind Quinlan. It was a few minutes past two. “That would be the Dixie Flyer Little was taking out of Miami. There’s a short layover in Jacksonville, after midnight. It’ll be north of Jacksonville now. How about wiring him on the train, Inspector? We’ll need him to clear this thing for us.”
“What are you muttering about?” Quinlan asked.
“You’re off the beam,” Quinlan said. “Come again.”
Shayne lowered one hip to the desk and repeated what he had said. “That’s the thing to do,” he ended.
“Contact the girl’s father?”
“That’s right. Joseph P. Little.”
Quinlan scribbled a notation which read, Joseph P. Little, Dixie Flyer.
“It’s somewhere between Jacksonville and New York,” Shayne said. “Either Drake or Little is a damned liar,” he mused aloud. “If Little sent me down here on a phony build-up—”
“If Little backs up your story when he gets here you’ll be in a much better position. In the meantime, you’re my only suspect.”
“Do you mean you’re going to hold me?” Shayne asked.
“Why not?” Quinlan leaned forward and pointed a finger at a button on his desk.
“Wait,” Shayne said hastily. “You don’t think I killed the girl.”
“I’m not paid to think on a murder case.” Quinlan’s finger hovered over the button.
“You know damned well,” Shayne said strongly, “that I didn’t beat that girl’s head in. Denton doesn’t believe it, either. He saw a chance to put Chief McCracken on the spot through me. You’re playing stooge for Denton if you lock me up.”
Quinlan drummed his finger tips on the desk top. “Go on,” he said.
“Give me a few hours. You let Drake walk out of here. Give me a chance to clean this thing up before Little gets here. How do you think I’m going to feel if he walks in and finds out that I not only fell down on the job but am actually accused of murdering his daughter — a girl I never saw before yesterday?”
Inspector Quinlan asked, “What do you think you can accomplish by yourself?”
“A lot,” Shayne said hotly. “You know how a private op works. I’m not hampered by any rules. Go ahead with your own investigation. You’ve got your angles, and I’ve got mine. You’ve got Drake under surveillance — your only other suspect, and if you’ve checked on me, you know I’ll be around.” He lifted his hip from the desk. “Hell,” he continued, “we stand around here chewing the fat when we should be at work. What about the two girls who had dinner with Barbara tonight? They might know something.” He put his big hands on the desk and bent toward the inspector. “Did you notice that the murderer struck several blows before killing the girl? Maybe somebody who wasn’t very strong had to strike again and again before she was dead.”
Quinlan said, “I observed the body. I don’t need to be taught my business by you.”
“You may be a smart cop,” Shayne said. “I think you are. But you know the handicaps of an official investigation.” Quinlan studied the pad on which he had written Drake’s admissions, riffling the small sheets with his thumb. He said, “If you’re in the clear, Shayne, you’ve nothing to worry about,” and did not raise his eyes. “But you shouldn’t mind sticking around until Little arrives to verify your story. Your interest in the case ended when the girl died — presumably.”
Shayne took his hands from the desk and backed away. His gaunt features were tight and his gray eyes glowed. He said, “Maybe you won’t understand this, but that girl was murdered while I was being paid to keep her alive — while she was waiting to keep a date with me. That would make it my case, even if J. P. Little wasn’t paying. If you can’t see it you’re a bigger damned fool than I figured you to be.”
The corners of Quinlan’s mouth twitched in a cold smile. “Will John McCracken vouch for you?”
“Call him and find out,” Shayne said wearily.
Quinlan lifted the receiver and asked the switchboard for a number. Shayne’s taut face relaxed and he stalked over to his chair and sat down.
Presently the inspector said, “This you, Mac? Sorry if I waked you up, but this might be important. I’ve got a man named Mike Shayne here — holding him on suspicion of murder.”
He stopped talking. Shayne could hear a crackling coming through the receiver. He saw Quinlan nod and the corners of his mouth go up.
Then Quinlan said, “I see, Chief. No, I haven’t too much on him. Sure — I’ll be glad to release him conditionally, until something else pops up. Good night, Mac, and thanks.” The inspector cradled the receiver and turned to Shayne. He said, “Chief McCracken says he wishes you’d get out of town or get drunk or go to bed.”
Shayne grinned and said, “Before too long I’ll grant two of his requests — the last two.”
The inspector was not smiling when he said, “I’m releasing you for the time being, but watch your step. Denton isn’t just a precinct captain. He’s got an in with the papers and he’s shooting for McCracken’s job. This will make a sweet smear if we don’t dean the murder up fast. You’re not the only one on the spot. Think about that when you walk out of here, and, for God’s sake, keep your nose clean.”
Shayne held out his hand, and the inspector stood up to grasp it. He warned, “Don’t hold out on us, Shayne. If there’s anything else lying around that Denton can get hold of, tell us about it now. If he’s got anything to frame you with, he’ll use it.”
Shayne said gruffly, “Don’t think I don’t appreciate this. I’ve been inside on too many frames to stick my neck into one.” He turned and went out.
Shayne stopped at one of the public telephone booths in the police building, went in and closed the door, then sat for a moment tugging at his left earlobe. He frowned in indecision before thumbing through the directory until he came upon the name of Veigle, H. F.
He dialed the number and listened to the monotonous, insistent buzzing of the phone at the other end. After three or four minutes the ringing stopped and a sleepy voice said, “Yeh — what the devil?”
“Harry?” Shayne said.
“Who’s talking?” the sleepy voice asked.
“Mike Shayne. Wake up and start thinking nine years back, Harry.”
“Mike? I don’t believe it. Where the hell are you?”
“Oh, so it is you, Mike.”
Shayne laughed. “I’ve just talked myself out of a murder rap — that is, almost. Are you awake, Harry?”
“Ever since you mentioned police headquarters and murder raps I’ve been awake. What do you want me to get you out of this time?”
“Still got your private lab, Harry? And are you still so broke you’d frame your grandmother for half a C?”
“Still got my lab, but I’ve raised my price. It’ll cost you a whole C to get my grandmother framed now.”
“Fair enough. Listen, Harry, this is important. Got a pencil and paper?” Shayne squirmed in the narrow telephone booth, got a small slip of paper from his shirt pocket, and spread it flat on the wall.
Harry Veigle said, “Shoot, Mike, my pencil is poised.”
“Take this down, Harry, and get it right. Tonight about eleven o’clock you got in a City Cab on Dumaine just off Charles. You rode three blocks and suddenly remembered something important you had to do and got out. Get it?”
“No, but go on,” Veigle snapped.
“You gave the driver a buck for this trouble, but you left a bundle on the floor of the cab — a round bundle about ten inches in diameter tied securely in brown wrapping paper and white string. No writing on it. It feels like old clothes, but is heavier than that. Got it?”
“Almost — wait a minute.”
Shayne waited until Veigle said, “Okay, shoot. What’s it all about?”
“It’s a cognac bottle,” Shayne went on, “wrapped in a bath towel and in wrapping paper, but don’t open it in the claim office when you pick it up. The clerk might be allergic to the sight of blood.”
Veigle said, “What the hell?”
“It killed a girl tonight,” Shayne told him calmly. “I want you to get the bottle right away, Harry. The cab number is one-two-six. Take it to your lab before you unwrap it. It’s got the dead girl’s fingerprints and mine all over it, and, I hope, the murderer’s prints. My prints are on file at headquarters and the girl’s will be in a couple of hours. If the bottle has any other prints, bring them out. If it hasn’t — get rid of the damned thing, Harry. I might beat the chair that way.”
“Wait a minute, Mike. How’d your prints get on the bottle? If it’s murder evidence—”
Shayne said, “There was a time when you trusted me without asking questions.”
In a resigned tone, Veigle said, “Check. I claim this bottle from the cab office, try to bring out a set of prints other than yours and the dead girl’s. If I fail, I destroy the evidence and face a rap for accessory after the fact. That it?”
Shayne said, “That’s it.”
“Who pays for the job if you burn?”
Shayne chuckled and hung up. He mopped sweat from his face and riffled through the directory again, turning to the H’s and frowning at the long column of Hamiltons. Near the top was a Becky Lucile on Chartres Street. He dialed the number, and a female voice said, “Hello,” after the fifth ring.
“Uh — yes. Who’s calling?”
“This is a friend of Margo’s.”
“I’m sort of friendly, too.” The voice was cooing, fencing with him. “I’m all undressed. Would you like to see me?”
Shayne said, “Some other time. When you are dressed.” He hung up and ran his finger down the column of names, stopped at a Lucile Hamilton on North Rampart.
He tried that number and waited a long time while the ringing went on monotonously at the other end.
His persistence was finally rewarded by a sleepy voice saying, “Miss Hamilton speaking.”
Shayne said, “This is a friend of Margo’s.”
“That’s right. I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour, but it’s really important that I see you at once. May I come up?”
“Why should you? It’s past midnight.”
“I’m sorry. It’s still important.” He paused briefly, then added, “I gather that the police haven’t got to you yet.”
“The police? Why should they?”
“There’s no use discussing it over the phone,” Shayne said brusquely. “I’ll see you in ten minutes.” He hung up and went out to find a cab.
The address on North Rampart street was a neat brick apartment house. Shayne found Lucile Hamilton’s name above a brass mailbox in the small entrance hall and pressed the button above it. He had his hand on the doorknob when it clicked. He opened the door and went up the carpeted stairs, turned right when he saw a girl peering anxiously from an apartment at the end of the hall.
Lucile Hamilton had a sweet, rounded face, and her clear brown eyes were wide with anxiety as she greeted Shayne from the doorway. “Are you the man who telephoned just now?” she asked softly.
“I’m the man — Michael Shayne.” He took off his hat and extended his hand.
She hesitated an instant before offering her hand, her direct gaze flickering over his coarse red hair and his bruised face and on to the big hand he was offering. Her smile was sincere when she put her hand in his and said forthrightly, “You’re the man Margo told us about. And I’m sure she was right, too.”
“That all depends on what she told you,” he said.
“Now you’re fishing,” she accused. Her cool hand gave him back a firm pressure, and she invited him into a tiny efficiency apartment. She wore a flowered housecoat that zipped up the front and trailed the floor behind her. She was about 20, Shayne guessed, with a disarming simplicity of manner. Her brown hair was brushed back from her face and tied at the nape of her neck with a pink ribbon.
“Please sit here,” she said, indicating the one comfortable chair beside which a tall metal ash tray stood. She curled up on the studio couch which was converted into a bed, making the small room appear crowded. “Now tell me what you meant by the police — and what about Margo? Is something wrong?”
Shayne offered her a cigarette, took one for himself and struck a match to light both. “It’s bad news,” he said quietly. “Margo is dead.”
“No!” She flinched as though she had been struck a blow in the face. Her brown eyes were probing at Shayne for the truth behind his stark words.
“But — I saw her just a few hours ago,” she faltered. “Was it an accident?”
Shayne got up and paced restlessly to the chintz-curtained windows, turned, and let his brooding gaze rest on the girl. “Margo was murdered. A short time after you left her. It looks as though you and your friend, Evalyn, were the last to see her alive.”
“Murdered? Oh, no!” Her voice cried out vehemently against the unfairness of it. “Not Margo! She was so vitally alive. How terrible!” Her eyes flashed angrily when she realized the full import of his words. “Tell me how it happened. Who murdered her?”
“I found Margo dead when I went to keep my date with her. I was detained until after eleven. It must have happened soon after you girls left. They don’t know who did it,” Shayne continued harshly. “Right now I’m the chief suspect. That’s why I want you to tell me everything you can — to help find her murderer.”
“They think you did it?” Lucile gasped.
Shayne nodded grimly. “They learned about our meeting this afternoon. The woman who served your dinner swears she saw a man leap from Margo’s balcony to mine just about the time the murder was committed.”
Tears filled Lucile’s eyes and overflowed on her cheeks, but she made no sound. Shayne sat down beside her, put an arm around her shoulders, and said, firmly, “I know this is tough on you, but you’ve got to help all you can. You’ve got to tell me about Margo — about tonight.”
She turned her face against him and cried for a while. After a few moments her slender body grew rigid. She lifted her face and said, “I’m sorry.”
Shayne got up and crushed his cigarette out in the ash tray. “Why don’t you try some cold water on your face? Then we’ll talk.”
“I will.” She went to a door beyond the end of the couch, and before entering, said, “I won’t be long.”
Shayne paced restlessly around the room, walking through an archway into a small breakfast nook and making a cursory examination of the tiny kitchenette.
He resumed his seat when she came out. Her clear skin was flushed from the cold water and she hadn’t put on any make-up. She said, “I’m all right now. I’m sorry I went to pieces.” She made herself comfortable on the couch with two pillows propped against the end. “Margo’s death tonight struck me as being particularly horrible,” she explained quietly, “because she was happier than she’s been since I’ve known her. I think you did that for her. Just the couple of drinks she had with you this afternoon. Don’t get me wrong,” she went on, “I don’t mean she was in love with you. It wasn’t anything silly, but it was what she had looked for here in the Quarter. She’s had a couple of cheap substitutes,” Lucile ended with a grimace, “and she was sure you were going to be different.”
Shayne asked, “What time did you leave Margo?”
“About ten o’clock. We’d had such a perfect evening until Henri came. Margo was bubbling over about you, and Evalyn was so happy — I suppose because she thought Henri would be coming back to her. It was like things used to be — before Henri and Margo met.”
“Who,” asked Shayne, “is Henri?”
“Henri Desmond. Why—” A thoughtful light came into her eyes and she drew her breath in sharply. “Don’t the police know about him?”
“Not that I’ve heard, but I’d be delighted to get hold of another suspect,” Shayne said.
“Henri could have done it,” she said doubtfully.
“Where does this Henri live?”
“Why, I don’t know, but I’m sure Evalyn does. I’ll call her.” She started to get up.
Shayne stopped her. “Wait,” he said. “Let’s get this straight first. You say Henri came to Margo’s apartment? What time was that?”
“Just a few minutes before ten. I remember because the phone had rung about nine forty-five. Margo talked to someone — you, I guess, and told us she had a date at ten-fifteen and we’d have to leave.” She laughed, her eyes bright with remembering, and said, “I scolded Margo about having an assignation with a redheaded stranger at that hour. Though I was glad for her,” she went on earnestly. “I’ve often told her that she needed to have an affair. A real one — and decent, of course. I honestly believe she was a virgin,” she ended pensively.
“Let’s get back to tonight,” Shayne said firmly. “Margo received a phone call at nine forty-five, you say? She didn’t tell you from whom, but intimated some man was coming in thirty minutes. Is that straight?”
“She didn’t actually say it was you who called. But she had been talking so much about you all evening, and she didn’t say it wasn’t. So I just supposed it was you.”
“And then Henri came?”
“Yes. It must have been about ten. Margo was terribly flustered when he knocked. I’m sure she thought it was you — ahead of time. She looked daggers at us for still being there when she went to the door. But it was only Henri.” Lucile sighed.
“She didn’t ask Henri in. She talked to him in the hall, but the door was open a crack and Evalyn and I could hear them. She told him he’d have to go because she had this date with you, and he got awfully mad. He threatened her. He said he wouldn’t stand for any other man hanging around her.” She paused, then added thoughtfully, “I think it was only his pride — I’m sure he didn’t love Margo.”
“Then Henri went away?” Shayne probed.
“Yes. Evalyn was crying when Margo came back. She had heard it all, you see. Of course she knew about Henri and Margo, but I rather think she had pretended to herself that it wasn’t really serious. Then when she heard him talking like that—”
“Did Henri know Evalyn was there?” Shayne interrupted.
“No. I’m positive he didn’t or he wouldn’t have said what he did to Margo. You see, Evalyn has been supporting him for months, giving him money and letting him spend part of the time in her apartment. He wanted to hang on to Evalyn and try to have an affair with Margo.”
“Go ahead,” Shayne said patiently. “What happened then?”
“Henri’s coming spoiled our party. It was rather messy with Evalyn crying and all, so I came home.”
“And left Evalyn there — with Margo?”
“Yes. Margo was trying to convince her that there had never been anything serious between her and Henri and that everything was over. I thought they’d get things fixed up if I left them together.”
“Perhaps Margo and Evalyn quarreled after you left. Maybe Evalyn murdered her.”
Shayne watched her keenly, but her eyes were candid when she said hastily, “Oh, no! Evalyn wouldn’t — well, not when she’s—” She paused, and her face was troubled. Then she laughed lightly and said, “Not Evalyn.”
“You started to say something else,” Shayne said. “Not when she’s — what?”
Lucile studied his face for a moment, then asked abruptly, “Are you a detective?”
“I am right now, until I find out who killed Margo.”
“Well, you don’t need to be so grim about it,” she replied irritatedly. She sat up a little straighter and rearranged the pillows. “I suppose it’ll all come out anyway, especially if Henri becomes involved, so it doesn’t matter if I tell you. And it might help you a little. Evalyn takes things sometimes — you know, for her nerves. She gets terribly depressed.”
“What sort of things?”
“Some kind of drug. Henri gets it for her. I think that’s why she hangs on to him.”
“You think Evalyn might be capable of murder while under the influence of drugs,” Shayne summed up slowly.
Lucile made a slight gesture of dismissal with her hands and said, “Do any of us really know what we are capable of?”
Shayne took the hint and said nothing more about Evalyn. He asked, “How well did you know Margo?”
“Quite well. That is, we saw each other a couple of times a week. I suppose,” she went on slowly, “I was her best friend here in the Quarter. Neither of us make friends easily, and I think that’s why we were attracted to each other.”
“Tell me about Margo’s life here. She didn’t work?”
“No. She wanted to write, but she didn’t actually do any writing. She was always going to start, but never did. She must have had real talent, though,” she went on thoughtfully, “enough that some editor recognized it and was willing to spend money to develop it. That’s how she came to be here, you know.”
Shayne lied, “I didn’t know.”
“Oh, yes, this editor was paying her expenses to live here,” Lucile said, a note of pride in her voice. “She didn’t talk about it much, but when she first came here she seemed to be suffering from a sort of mental shock. She had a terrible complex about being defeated by life. From things she told me, I think she had tried to commit suicide as a result of her failure to write successfully. Some editor pulled her back from the brink and gave her new courage, showing his faith in her ability by advancing her money to come here and recuperate. He took quite a paternal interest in her, I guess.”
They sat quietly for a while, then Shayne got up and sat on the couch beside her. He said, “I realize that you don’t care to discuss the shortcomings of your friend, but tell me, how did Evalyn fit into the picture — with you and Margo, I mean?”
Lucile narrowed her eyes at him, looking through a film of smoke. “Evalyn works at the office with me. She and Margo were never really close, and when Henri showed an interest in Margo they stopped seeing each other altogether for a long time.”
“Until Margo invited her to dinner?”
“Yes. I’m positive Margo had a reason. She wanted Evalyn to hear for herself that she was through with Henri.”
“What kind of man is Henri Desmond?”
“He’s a louse. He’s slimy.” She made a grimace of extreme distaste. “I never understood how Margo could stand him, except that she seemed determined to experiment. She believed that an author needed to experience everything. She used to say that it was important to find out what made men like Henri tick.”
“Sexual experimentation?” Shayne asked.
“I guess that was part of her plan, but I don’t believe she would have included Henri that way.” She lowered her eyes, raised them to see a crooked smile on Shayne’s face, then went on with simplicity and defiance. “I have an idea, though, that she planned some such experiment after she’d met you. That’s why she was so excited and happy. She told Evalyn and me that a flame leaped in her heart when you first looked at her.” Lucile laughed and said coquettishly, “There is something about you that gives a girl a warm feeling of wanting to know you better, Michael Shayne.”
Shayne grinned. “It’s my handsome face.” He gently touched the bump on his face. The swelling had gone down, leaving only a small knot directly beneath the broken skin.
“No, it isn’t that,” she said emphatically. “That was a terrible thing for me to say — with Margo dead — murdered.”
Shayne said, “Do you mind going into details about Henri Desmond? I’m trying to get a complete picture of Margo and her life here. All the little things add up to piecing together a composite picture of the causes which led to her murder, and to tracking down her murderer. In picking up a cold trail, the only logical starting point is the character of the victim.”
Lucile looked levelly into his eyes when she said, “I suppose you’re right. As I said, Henri was not in love with Margo. I think he knew she was a virgin, and that made the chase exciting. He wanted her not so much for her but as a sort of trophy. Do I sound terribly crude?” she asked anxiously.
“You sound quite matter-of-fact,” Shayne reassured her. “It makes it a lot easier if we don’t have to deal with evasions and half-truths.”
“Well, Henri’s about twenty-five. I’m quite sure he takes drugs in moderate amounts. He scorns any man who is fool enough to work for a living. The only work he ever does is to take people to a dive here in the Quarter. I’m sure he gets a commission for each person he takes there, though he denied it one time when I asked him.”
“What kind of dive?”
“It’s called the Daphne Club. It’s one of the worst cesspools in the Quarter. I went there once — Margo wanted to go. She considered it part of her education in connection with her writing. So Henri took us, Evalyn and Margo and me. Evalyn had been there before.”
Shayne asked, “Do you want to tell me about it?”
Lucile lowered her eyes and studied her slender hands. She did not look at Shayne when she said, “I’m not particularly fastidious, and I’m not a prude. I learned most of the facts of life long ago. I know that some women are prostitutes and that a lot of men must like that sort of thing or else the women couldn’t make a living at it. And I know that some people are sexually perverted, but I had never heard of such filth as was paraded openly that night at the Daphne Club.”
“A circus?” Shayne asked.
She nodded, but did not lift her eyes. “I had heard the term used before, but never really knew what it stood for. At worst, I thought the show would be — well, exciting — you know.” She looked up at him suddenly and her brown eyes appealed to him for understanding. Her cheeks were highly flushed.
Shayne said grimly, “I know what you walked into. Never mind any details. What about Margo?” he asked sharply. “How did she react to the visit?”
“That was something I couldn’t quite understand — unless she was determined not to let it get the best of her. She was shocked, but not horrified. She said it was part of the living she had to do in order to be a successful writer. She laughed at me when I became nauseated and had to excuse myself. But maybe her stomach was stronger than mine.”
Shayne’s shaggy red brows were drawn down in a frown. He said softly, “Thanks, Lucile. And now I think I’d like to tackle Henri. Do you want to call Evalyn and see if he’s there? Or find out where we can find him?”
Lucile stretched her legs from the cramped position in which she had been sitting, got up, and went into the tiny dining-alcove and called a number.
Shayne relaxed and lit a cigarette, the frown deepening between his eyes.
Lucile waited for a time, then hung up and came back to the couch. “Evalyn doesn’t answer,” she told him, a trace of anxiety in her tone.
Before Shayne could say anything they were both startled by the shrill ringing of the telephone. She sprang up and looked at Shayne for guidance, murmuring, “Shall — I answer it?”
“Of course, but don’t mention my name, whoever it is.” She hurried to the instrument and lifted the receiver, said, “Hello. Miss Hamilton speaking.”
Shayne moved softly to stand behind her. He saw her give a start of surprise, and she glanced up at him swiftly. She said, “Oh, it’s you, Henri.” She listened a moment, then asked slowly, “What do you mean, Henri? Why should the police have been here?”
She looked again at Shayne, holding her hand over the mouthpiece. He nodded and whispered, “Keep him talking. Play dumb, but try to find out where he is.”
“No — I haven’t seen Evalyn,” Lucile said to Henri. “Not since we were at Margo’s. Why, Henri? Is something wrong?” She listened, little frowns coming and going in her smooth forehead, then said, “Why should I meet you there? What on earth could be so important at three o’clock in the morning?”
Covering the mouthpiece, she whispered excitedly, “He wants me to meet him at the Daphne. He won’t say why,” and motioned for Shayne to say something.
“Tell him you’ll come if you can bring a friend. Tell him you have a guest and—”
“I guess I can come, Henri, but I’ll have to bring someone with me. What? N-o-o. It’s a man. You don’t know him, but he’s here and I won’t just go off and leave him.” She waited for a moment, said, “All right. As soon as we can get a taxi and get there,” hung up and whirled on Shayne, her brown eyes bright with excited conjecture.
“Henri sounds frightened,” she told Shayne. “He wanted to know if the police had been here and if I’d seen Evalyn. He wouldn’t tell me why, and he practically ordered me to meet him at the Daphne. Said I’d regret it if I didn’t, and that he’d explain everything when I got there. And he naturally thought the worst when I told him you were here,” she went on, her words choked with laughter. “He said for us to get dressed as fast as we could and get over there.”
“You can tell him I’m your uncle from Waukegan,” Shayne suggested. He gave her a little shove toward the living-room. “I’ll call a taxi while you’re getting ready.”
When Lucile called, “I’m almost ready,” he went into the living-room. She was in the bathroom rouging her lips before the lavatory mirror after changing to a green sports dress with suède shoes to match. “That is,” she admitted, “all except putting on my mask and buttoning up.”
Shayne scowled at her. “So you want me to play lady’s maid?”
“They’re simply hellish to button,” she told him, coming through the bathroom doorway and backing up to him. “There are only a few. Darn little old things — and the buttonholes aren’t big enough.”
Shayne’s big fingers fumbled with the small cloth-covered buttons. He ran out of fresh curse words as the last of the short strip of buttons at the back of the neck was fastened.
Lucile whirled to face him. Her eyes were full of laughter and she said, “If you hadn’t made me laugh so hard you’d have finished buttoning me sooner.”
Shayne took a step backward and looked at her. “You look like a kid — not like a hussy on her way to the Daphne Club.” His face suddenly became grim. “I’m afraid this isn’t going to be a lark. You’d better be prepared for anything Henri might spring on you tonight.”
The laughter went out of her eyes. “I — hadn’t thought of that,” she confessed. “Are you married, Michael?”
Shayne said, “No,” harshly. “I’m a widower, so watch your step.”
Lucile’s gay mood was gone when she went to the closet and brought out a tiny green hat. She perched it on her head without the aid of a mirror. She said, solemnly, “I keep forgetting about Margo.”
“I wish I could forget about her,” said Shayne through tight lips.
Lucile studied the bleak contours of his face for a moment. “Do you think Henri could have done it?”
“I’ll do my thinking after I meet him. Ready?”
A horn honked insistently outside. Lucile said, “You go down. I forgot about the card. Henri gave me one — that night. You’re supposed to have one to get in.” She ran to the closet and scrambled through the top drawer of a hidden highboy. Shayne was waiting when she came out. “Here it is,” she said, and handed it to him.
Shayne read Club Daphne in large letters. Supporting each end of the two words was a young, nude girl with arms outstretched and high, pointed breasts. In small letters below, For Intimate Relaxation was printed, and scrawled across the bottom of the card, in ink, was the name Henri Desmond.
Shayne pocketed the card. “Admission by card only, eh?”
“To the inner sanctum. The public room is a regular night club with a hot band and a racy floor show. It all looks perfectly harmless to any tourist who drops in, but I still have nightmares over my one experience with the ‘Intimate Relaxation.’” She essayed a flippant laugh, but it didn’t quite come off. “I guess I’m just a bourgeois at heart,” she ended with a sigh as they went down the stairs.
The cab was waiting. Shayne asked, “Know where the Club Daphne is?”
The driver grinned. “Sure thing.”
Lucile moved close to Shayne when the taxi started. Her hand found his and caught his fingers. She said, shakily, “I should be frightened, I guess.”
Her fingers tightened on his. “Not with you.”
“Remember, I’m the new boy friend,” Shayne cautioned. “I’m jealous as hell and refuse to let you out of my sight in that joint. He’ll want to talk to you privately, but make him stay where I can see you. And you don’t know anything about Margo’s death. You simply went home and kept a date with me after leaving Evalyn at Margo’s.”
“I understand,” she whispered tensely. “What do you think Henri wants?”
“I imagine he wants to make sure you don’t tell the police about that scene with Margo tonight. Whether he did it or not, he knows that makes him a suspect. Play him along, promise him anything and try to find out how he learned about the murder.”
“I’ll do my best.” She relaxed with her shoulder against Shayne’s, her fingers still clinging to his.
The cab slowed and turned off North Rampart onto Esplanade Avenue with its stately palm trees and live-oaks and magnolias, and with aged, shuttered homes that had once been palatial residences of the socially prominent in the French city.
Now the street was deserted and silent. The cab glided along slowly for more than two blocks, then turned under a grilled iron archway bearing a discreet neon sign, Club Daphne. A gravel drive circled between double rows of palms to the rear courtyard of one of the stately old residences which had been converted into a parking lot. More than a dozen cars were parked in the lot, though no light shone from the shuttered windows of the ancient house and no sound came through the thick walls of stone.
A single ruby light glowed at the end of a vine-covered latticework approach to the rear entrance. The driver stopped and opened the rear door. He said, “The last floor show will just about be starting,” as Shayne and Lucile got out.
Shayne gave him a dollar, took Lucile’s arm, and led her up a flagged walk under the latticework to a heavy oak door reinforced with thick strips of pounded copper.
The door swung open silently as they neared it and a young Negro boy greeted them with a white-toothed smile. “Yassuh,” he intoned, “yo’ jes in time fo’ de las’ flo’ show.”
The rhythmic beat of a boogie-woogie pulsed through a long, dark-paneled hallway leading in from the rear door. Shayne traded his hat for a check from the boy and they went along a strip of heavy carpeting to an arched doorway at the end of the hall.
A bald-headed man in a dinner jacket met them in the doorway. He lifted his brows and said, “Two?” and guided them into a large, dark room.
A raised platform in the center had an orange spotlight beating down upon two Negro girls performing mad gyrations to the beat of a concealed orchestra. The dancers were very young with sinuous yellow bodies which were nude except for loin cloths and a single red rosette for each breast.
Shayne and Lucile followed the guide between close-ranked tables which were occupied by a few indefatigable patrons. He led them to a small table in the second row from the platform and seated them just as the two quadroons finished their mad dance to a mild spattering of applause.
Concealed overhead lights glowed as the girls scampered down a runway and off the stage. The waiter was standing deferentially beside Shayne’s chair.
Shayne raised his red brows quizzically. Lucile said, “I’ll take a Tom Collins.”
“Are you sure?”
“Well — yes. I do know what a Tom Collins is,” she said, and for the first time since Shayne had met her she appeared embarrassed.
“Two Tom Collinses,” Shayne said.
The waiter nodded stiffly and turned away.
The overhead lights faded out and the yellow spot came on again as a tall, statuesque blonde glided up the runway followed by a smiling lad.
A burst of applause greeted the blonde and her youthful companion. Stringed instruments made plaintive cries as she took the boy’s hand and began crooning a song about being just a mother to Tommy.
Shayne looked at Lucile. Her head was turned from the stage and she was apparently absorbed in an intricate mosaic pattern decorating the table. She said, “I’m going to protect my stomach tonight.”
“The same act you saw before?” Shayne asked.
“With variations,” she murmured. “Last time it was an old man and a young girl.”
“Then we won’t look,” Shayne agreed.
After a long delay, the waiter came with their drinks. The orchestra hit a wailing crescendo, and Shayne turned his head to see the tall blonde running off the stage, naked except for a pair of shoes.
The waiter set tall drinks on the table. Lucile said, “I want to see Henri Desmond.”
“I’ll give him your message as soon as he can be located, Madame,” the man said.
The lights stayed on and the platform was lowered by a hidden mechanism. Another low stage rose slowly into view with a ten-piece Negro orchestra beating out a dance tune. Half a dozen scattered couples from the nearly empty dining-room got up to dance.
Four of the six couples were men past fifty, accompanied by very young girls, none of them past the age of consent. Lucile said, “Those kids are the hostesses. I wonder how they manage to do their school work after a night here.”
“What’s the rest of the layout?” Shayne tasted his drink and set it down. “It’s worse than I expected.”
“You should have ordered something else,” she murmured. “You didn’t have to—”
“Anything in this joint would have tasted the same. What else do you know about it?”
“This is the public part, of course. Over there beyond the orchestra are the restrooms. You go through those doors into halls leading to another room like this in front, only smaller.”
“And more intimate?” Shayne grinned at her.
Lucile did not smile. “The restrooms open off the halls,” she went on solemnly. “It’s fixed that way, Henri said, so the common tourists won’t notice selected customers slipping into the other room during the course of the night. They simply go to the restrooms and don’t come back.” She lifted her glass and drank half of the faintly greenish liquid, making a wry face as she set it down. “I didn’t know gin ever tasted like this stuff does,” she complained.
“You’re just used to a better grade. You don’t have to drink it, you know.”
“I held my breath to keep from tasting what I did drink,” she said.
“What’s upstairs?” Shayne asked abruptly.
“Rooms,” she told him succinctly. “For hire by the hour, or longer — if you’re interested.”
Lucile pouted and said, “I was afraid I would be perfectly safe with you.”
Shayne looked at her, his eyes twinkling. “You work awfully hard at trying to fill the role of a wild woman.”
She tossed her brown curls. “I’m not a high-school girl.”
Shayne’s grin spread. “How old are you?”
She said, “Twenty-six,” defiantly.
Shayne arched his ragged red brows. “I don’t believe you, but I’ll make a note of it.”
Lucile said, “I wonder what’s keeping Henri?”
Shayne’s finger tips drummed impatiently on the table. He muttered, “You don’t suppose Henri saw me and was scared off?”
“I shouldn’t think so.” She pushed her chair back and said, “Excuse me. You entertain Henri while I’m gone — if he comes.” Her voice was decidedly thick.
“Where are you going?” Shayne demanded.
She said, with an attempt at severity, “A gen’leman never asks a lady that ques’ion.”
He watched her cross the room and go through the door marked Ladies. He lit a cigarette and puffed on it as he moodily wondered if Lucile could be 26. She looked much younger. She was pretty swell, clear thinking and straight talking. He caught himself wishing he had met her under other circumstances.
Then his thoughts reverted to Margo. She had been pretty swell, too. He grinned, recollecting what Margo had told Lucile about him. He couldn’t repress a feeling of guilt for having approached Margo under false pretenses. Still, it hadn’t been all false — not after he met and talked with her. How would it have turned out?
He sternly swung his thoughts into another channel. Joseph Little would probably be arriving soon. It would be a lot easier to face him if he could hand over his daughter’s murderer. He went over the story Lucile had told about Evalyn and Henri. Would a man like that kill out of jealousy? Shayne didn’t think so. But Evalyn — a woman scorned was a different proposition. The brutal battering of the victim was a likely indication of furious rage. One or two blows with the death weapon in strong hands would have sufficed. In weaker hands it was different, and Barbara Little’s killer must have struck time and time again — even, perhaps, after the job was done.
Shayne came out of his meditation and looked at his wrist watch. Lucile had been gone a long time. He glanced around the room, scowling heavily. He watched the Ladies door, but it remained closed. He remembered that the door led not only to the restrooms but on to the private floor show beyond.
Had Henri seen him, recognized him as he came in with Lucile? Was Henri Barbara Little’s murderer and intent on getting rid of any evidence against him by holding Lucile — maybe murdering her, also? He clenched his fists and discovered that his palms were wet with sweat. It had been 15 minutes since Lucile left the table.
He scraped his chair back and got up, saw Lucile’s green handbag on the table, and picked it up. He circled the orchestra to the closed door leading to the ladies’ restroom.
Opening the door, he found that it led into a narrow hall about 15 feet long. A curtained doorway at his right had the word Ladies in silver letters above it. He stopped and called, “Lucile,” in a loud voice.
A Negro maid thrust her head out. She rolled her eyes and asked, “Was you callin’, Mister?”
Shayne said, “I wondered if my girl was all right. Is she sick?”
“The one who came in here about fifteen minutes ago, wearing a green dress and green shoes to match this bag.” He held up the suède handbag.
The Negress shook her head. “Ain’ no girl in heah. Ain’ been no girl in heah wearin’ no dress lak dat.”
Shayne’s eyes glowed hotly. He swung around and started toward the end of the hall.
A burly man stepped into the hall from a side door near the end. Hulking shoulders strained the seams of a gray suit. His face was pock-marked, his jaw heavy and set, his eyes small.
He put his hands on his hips and confronted Shayne. “Whatcha doin’ here? Comin’ out the ladies’ room?”
“I’m looking for a girl. She’s wearing a green dress.”
“She ain’t here,” the man grated. “Beat it.”
The grooves in Shayne’s cheeks deepened. “Where’s Henri Desmond?”
He heard footsteps in the hall behind him as the man growled, “He ain’t here neither.”
Shayne turned to look at the man sauntering toward them. He wore a double-breasted blue suit, a black fedora, and round-toed black shoes. He might as well have worn a sign saying Plain-Clothes Dick. He looked past Shayne and asked, “Trouble, Bart?”
“This here guy,” said Bart, “claims he’s lookin’ for a dame that’s got lost.”
The dick stopped five feet from Shayne and looked him over coldly. He unbuttoned his double-breasted coat and opened it to give the redhead a flash of his city badge. “Better not start anything in here, bud.”
Shayne laughed shortly. “Did Denton send you?”
The dick jerked his thumb back over his shoulder and said, “Beat it.”
Shayne hunched his shoulders and turned back to Bart. “I’m headed this way.”
“That’s private,” Bart said. “’Less you got a special card.”
Shayne took a step forward.
The burly man stepped back and said, “Okay, buddy,” in a resigned tone.
The dick came up behind him swiftly as he reached for the doorknob. He felt the muzzle of a gun boring into his left side. The dick said, “You better not—”
Shayne whirled and knocked the gun down with his left forearm while his right fist made a short arc to the dick’s jaw. As the man went down, pain struck savagely at the base of Shayne’s right ear. His knees gave way, and the bottom fell out of the world.
Shayne found coming back from the dead a disheartening and painful process. It was a lot easier to remain in the void where there was no pain, no physical discomfort. Each effort of his mind to return to consciousness brought unendurable agony, and he swam again into oblivion. Why should he encourage consciousness of the mind when his body was dead?
Lying stretched out on the floor in a semicoma, each resurgence to reality made his head a solid mass of pain circled by constricting bands of flame.
But there was something else. Something urgent. He couldn’t quite get hold of one thought before it frayed away and was replaced by another one. He kept seeing a girl’s face. First she was Lucile, then she was Margo. The girl was beckoning to him, her lips parted and her eyes sad with perplexed entreaty. Two girls who trusted him, and he was letting them both down.
He set himself for the final struggle. He knew it wasn’t going to be easy. He was pleasantly conscious of his own strength and determination as he grappled with the tenuous edge of reality. One strong wrench and he would be back.
He became conscious of the hard floor and of an unbearably bright light overhead which made it impossible to open his eyes. He was aware of voices, voices that were like hammers, pounding against the constricting bands around his head, producing a vicious ringing inside that made the words unintelligible.
Then he heard his own name spoken, and it was as though a brazen gong clanged against his brain, and he could hear again.
“—Mike Shayne don’t know when to lay off.” The voice was heavy, strangely familiar to Shayne.
“Why not get rid of him? I don’t see—”
“We can’t do that, Rudy. Not with things like they are. That’d mean getting rid of the girl, too. And it still wouldn’t take the pressure off the other murder. We got to fix it to clean things up so the investigation’ll stop right now.”
Shayne recognized the voice as Captain Denton’s. And Denton had called the other man Rudy. That would be Rudy Soule.
“I’m not worried about an investigation. I’ve paid out plenty for protection and I mean to be protected.” Soule’s voice was thin and silken. The men seemed to be very close, not more than 15 feet away.
Shayne lay quiescent, listening intently, and the pain subsided to a dull throb at the base of his ear.
“We’re in this together, Soule. You don’t know Shayne when he gets started. He’s hell on wheels.”
“There’re ways to stop him.”
“I tell you another murder won’t do right now — not one hooked up with the Margo Macon killing. Shayne’s got friends in this town. He wouldn’t be fool enough to come here without turning over what he’s got to some of them.”
“You don’t mean Chief McCracken?” This was a new voice, one with a twangy whine.
“Shut up,” Soule commanded. “What do you think he’s got, Dolph?”
“That’s what I want to know!”
“Who steered him here?”
“That fellow named Drake, maybe. The one Henri brought here before he got picked up by Quinlan.”
“Maybe you’re making a lot out of nothing,” Soule scoffed. “He might’ve just dropped in for a place to bring the frail for a thrill.”
“Shayne don’t just drop in,” Denton said viciously. “See if you can wake him up, Bart. If you hadn’ve hit him so damn hard—”
“I didn’t hit ’im hard,” a surly voice protested.
The man moved, dropped to his knees behind Shayne. “I know a li’l trick. Seen it worked in Chi onct. If a guy’s still alive it’ll bring him up sure.”
Shayne forced his eyes open and sat up slowly. Bright overhead lights pierced his eyes with lances of fire. A surge of pain nauseated him and everything whirled in a blur. He gritted his teeth and kept his eyes half open until the room swam into focus again.
The burly man called Bart rocked back on his heels with a grunt of satisfaction. “What’d I tell yuh? I didn’ hit ’im no more’n easy-like.”
Shayne forced his face muscles to form a grin. He said, “Hello, Captain,” to Denton, who was leaning forward in a straight chair beside a desk.
Dolph Denton’s face was ugly with wrath. He said thickly, “You asked for it, shamus.”
Shayne’s gaze went on to the man sitting behind the desk. Rudy Soule had a thin, arrogant face with high cheekbones and a wispy black mustache. He looked immaculate and cool in white flannels and a pale-yellow sport shirt. His eyes were half hidden by drooping lids and he appeared faintly amused.
Henri Desmond regarded Shayne sullenly from a lounging position against the wall behind Soule’s desk. He shifted his weight uneasily from one foot to the other as Shayne looked at him.
Shayne said to Denton, “You’re the one who’s worried.” The small room held only the desk and three chairs. There was no sign of Lucile Hamilton. Shayne drew his legs up to sit crosslegged and was pleased to find that they worked. The throbbing had stopped at the base of his ear, leaving a steady, annoying ache.
Denton said, “Start talking.”
“What do you want me to talk about?” Shayne took a cigarette from a pack and lit it.
Rudy Soule leaned back and clasped long fingers behind his head. In a silken-smooth voice, he observed, “Don’t try to hold out on us. We’ve got the girl, too. She’s still out, isn’t she, Henri?”
The sullen-faced young man nodded. “She was, the last time I looked.”
Shayne puffed thoughtfully on his cigarette. He couldn’t quite figure the setup. There was something screwy about the whole thing. If he could put his finger on that screwiness—
“I never knew what hit me downstairs,” he complained. “How’d you get wise to me?”
“I saw you come in,” Denton growled. “If you’d drunk your Tom Collins like the girl did you wouldn’t have needed a bust on the head.”
“So — that was it. I should have known from the taste of the damned thing.” He looked at Henri. “You haven’t thanked me for bringing Lucile.”
Henri Desmond was startled. He said, sullenly, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Things were beginning to come clear to Shayne. Denton had recognized him as soon as he entered. It looked as though Henri had kept his mouth shut about his part in it as soon as he learned the identity of Lucile’s escort.
“The hell you don’t,” Shayne said. “Why did you invite us here in the first place?”
Both Denton and Soule turned to stare at Henri. Henri pushed his lips into a deeper pout and whined, “That crack on the head Bart gave you must of knocked you cuckoo.”
Shayne laughed shortly. “You shouldn’t start to sell out and then get cold feet, Desmond.”
“The guy’s crazy,” Henri panted. “I never saw him after he tried to horn in this evening till just now.”
“What’re you trying to do, Shayne? What kind of bunk is this?” Denton demanded.
“It looks like you’d better start cleaning your own house,” Shayne told him sardonically. “Your boy friend is the one that tipped me off to this setup.”
“He’s lying,” twanged Henri.
Soule said, “Shut up, punk.” The words were like a whiplash across Henri’s dark face. Soule turned to Shayne. “Go on talking, copper.”
“Don’t blame him too much. He’s worried about his own skin.” Then he added carelessly to Denton, “If you’re looking for a fall guy to take the rap for the Margo Macon killing, he’s ready-made for it.”
“How does he figure in that?” Soule asked harshly.
“I can prove he did it,” Shayne answered quietly.
“You can’t. It’s a lie. Every word of it’s a lie. I didn’t have him come here.” Desmond’s voice rose.
Neither Denton nor Soule paid any attention to Henri. Shayne reached in his pocket and took out the card Lucile had given him. He flipped it on Soule’s desk and asked, “Does that look like I’m lying?”
Soule picked it up, glanced at it, and passed it to Denton without speaking.
“Henri was on the make for Margo Macon,” Shayne went on smoothly. “Two witnesses heard them quarrel at ten o’clock and heard him threaten to kill her. It looks like he got panicky when he realized what their evidence would do to him. He can’t locate one of the girls, and when he found out I’d got to the other one, he asked us to meet him here to make a deal with us. If you hadn’t happened to see me when I came in, Denton, I figure Henri would already have traded me what I wanted on you for keeping him in the clear.”
Denton started to his feet with his two big fists swinging and his face contorted with rage. He growled at Henri, “You rat! I’ll teach you!”
“Sit down, Denton,” Soule snapped. Again, his arrogant voice cut like a whiplash. He had not taken his eyes from Shayne’s face. “Don’t let this redhead get you going. He’s mixed up in the Macon killing, isn’t he?”
“Yeh, but—” Denton went back to his chair. “Quinlan turned him loose,” he said heavily, “after I had a rope tied around his neck. I don’t know what the score is there.”
Soule turned thoughtful eyes on Henri. “How do you figure in it?”
“I don’t. Not the way he makes it sound. I was up there, sure. I had a run-in with Margo. I got sore at her for junking me, but I never killed her.”
“Why’d you get Lucile and me here?” Shayne asked harshly. “You’d heard the word passed around by Denton that I was dynamite. You know I’ve had a yen from years back to hang something on him.”
“I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t know you were coming with Lucile.”
Soule said, “Lucile?”
“Lucile Hamilton,” Henri admitted sullenly. “In the other room.” He hesitated, scowled heavily and burst out, “Don’t look at me like that. I knew I was in a jam. Both those girls heard me at Margo’s — Evalyn Jordan and Lucile Hamilton. I don’t know where Evalyn’s got to. I thought if I could put it up to Lucile I might get her to forget about me being there. God knows the cops will be riding my tail if they find me. You don’t want that,” he ended defiantly. “You nor Captain Denton neither.”
“No,” said Soule smoothly, “we don’t want that. But you should have told me, Henri.” He was purring now, like a father chiding an erring son. “If you’d come to me we would have fixed something up.”
“I was afraid you’d be sore.” Henri dropped his head. “When Lucile came in with this stool, I was afraid to tell you I’d sent for her.”
“Let me have Desmond,” Shayne suggested. “All I want is the girl’s killer.”
“That,” Soule said, “is an idea.” He looked at Denton with raised brows.
“I don’t trust Shayne,” Denton said heavily. “Sure, he wants a fall guy for the murder. He needs an out. But after he gets that, he still knows too much about our hookup.”
“Thanks to the young man who invited him here,” Soule purred.
“Yeh. Thanks to Henri. But that’s not the point right now. I say let’s hang the murder on Shayne.”
“Henri fits a frame lots better than I do,” Shayne told them wolfishly. “He had the motive. I swear that’s all I want,” he went on earnestly. “I came to New Orleans on one job. When that’s finished I’m through here.”
“Sounds all right to me,” said Soule. “Henri’s been getting too free with those cards he passes out. Like Drake. He’s going to use us for an alibi if the pressure gets hot. That means publicity. Gives a place a bad name.”
“Denton tipped me to Drake,” Henri expostulated sullenly. “If you want to get sore—”
“Nobody’s sore,” Soule told him calmly. “The harm’s been done and we’ve got to patch it up.” He addressed Shayne. “Do you need any more than you’ve got or will you be satisfied with Henri?”
“Damn you,” raged Henri, “you’d sell me out like that! Not if I know it. I’ll bust things wide open, and I know plenty to bust it with.”
Shayne grinned at Soule. “Sometimes murderers get an attack of conscience and commit suicide when they think they’re going to get caught. That way they don’t do any talking afterward.”
“It’s an idea,” Soule agreed. “How do you like it?” He looked at Denton for sanction.
“Shayne’s talking you into something,” Denton grunted suspiciously. “I’d like it better if he got an attack of conscience and committed suicide.”
“You’re forgetting the two girls,” Shayne reminded him. “Their evidence will pin it on Henri if you let it go that way. With me, you’d have to see that neither of them ever did any talking.”
“He’s right,” Soule said evenly. “It’s a lot cleaner using Henri.”
Henri sobbed. “Oh, God! You’re talking about me — like I was already dead. Like I didn’t matter.”
“If you can give us a better out, let’s have it,” Soule suggested with thin-lipped viciousness.
“Will both girls tell the same story?” Denton asked Shayne.
“They both witnessed the quarrel and heard Henri threaten Margo. Lucile left right away and the other girl stayed. Hell, she may even have seen Henri do it. Quinlan may have hold of her right now. Maybe I don’t need anything you can give me.”
The telephone rang on Soule’s desk. He picked it up and said, “Yes, just a minute,” and handed it to Denton. After a moment, Denton asked, “What was the name of that other girl?”
“Evalyn Jordan,” Henri answered.
Denton nodded, barked into the phone, “Keep it in our precinct till I get there. Don’t let anybody in to see her. If she does any talking it’ll be to me.” He slammed the receiver down and swung to his feet. “The Jordan girl has tried to kill herself. I’ll call you back as soon as I find out what’s what.” He tramped from the room.
There was a short silence after Denton left. Henri Desmond was slumped back against the wall staring apathetically at the floor. Soule studied him thoughtfully, then pushed his chair back and got up. He put his hand on Henri’s shoulder and said, “Maybe something will come up.”
Sitting crosslegged on the floor, Shayne was congratulating himself upon feeling so well physically, but when he tried to get up, his knees were weak and wobbly and his head swam. He caught the back of the chair which Denton had vacated and held on until the dizziness passed, then said, “I’ll buy us all a drink if anyone will join me.”
Soule said, “I don’t see why not.” He went to his desk and pushed a button. Immediately, a waiter appeared in the doorway and Soule ordered three drinks.
Bart stood in a watchful attitude behind Shayne, his blackjack swinging. Shayne winced and appealed to Soule, “Does that gorilla have to look at me like that?”
Soule said, “I’m sorry you don’t like Bart’s looks, but I want to be sure you stay here.”
A Negro came in with a tray of three-ounce glasses and a quart of Bourbon. Soule filled the glasses and handed one to Shayne. He said placidly, “That’s the best medicine I know of for Bart’s blackjack.”
Shayne grinned and said, “I’d drink it even if it was a Mickey Finn.” He tipped it up and let it drain down his parched throat.
Soule laughed shortly and pushed the other two glasses aside. He said, “It was.”
Shayne stared at his empty glass, wrinkling his nose in disgust. He said, “If you want me put away I’m glad it’s this way instead of under the ear.”
“We try to be considerate of our guests. It was for your own good,” Soule said earnestly. “You’ve got a rep for not knowing when to stop, and Bart might not be so gentle next time.”
Shayne said, “Thanks.” His tongue felt thick and heavy, and his lips were dry and numb. His fingers were slow taking a cigarette from the pack, and refused to hold the match he tried to strike.
He muttered, “I’ve always wondered how a Mickey worked.” The cigarette dropped from his lips. He felt a pleasing lassitude coming over his body. His head sagged forward and he slid gently and ungracefully from the chair.
Shayne was having a pleasant dream of being back in his Miami apartment. He dreamed that it was night and he was in bed with his wife, Phyllis. His hand touched hers and she snuggled a little closer to him. She was asleep, but he was awake, and he decided he would stay awake to enjoy the cozy sense of contentment.
Something wakened him. The dream was blended with reality. He had a hell of a hang-over. His tongue scraped the walls of his parched mouth, and his head was splitting with pain. He lay very still for fear it would fly into pieces if he dared to move.
There was a confusing clamor all around him. The shrieks of women and the heavy thud of hard heels on bare floor. Somewhere, far away, a police whistle sounded shrilly.
Shayne moved his arm. His hand contacted something soft and warm. The something moved, snuggled closer to him. He forced his eyes open and dragged himself to a sitting position, his mind still confused with the dream and with reality. The room was certainly not his Miami apartment.
Again he felt movement beside him, and turned his aching eyes to see Lucile Hamilton sitting up, staring about wildly. Her hair was a disheveled mass and the covers had fallen from her naked body. Instinctively, he made a grab for the covers to draw them up, put his arm around her to drag her down on the pillow.
A blinding flare from a flashlight bulb flooded the room. A grinning man was backing away through the doorway, dismantling a camera from a tripod as he went. A red mist blotted out the room and the cameraman from Shayne’s gaze. He threw back the covers and lunged to his feet only to find the door barred by a bluecoat swinging a nightstick.
“Take it easy, buddy, or you’ll get a rap on the head.”
Through the red haze, Shayne saw other grinning cops in the hall outside. The cameraman had disappeared. He shivered, and for the first time realized that he was stark naked. He took a step backward and rusty bedsprings creaked as he sat down abruptly. With his back toward the girl, he said, “Stay down under the covers until I get some clothes on.”
He found them hung in disarray on a chair beside the bed. On the floor beside a chair, Lucile’s clothing lay in a little pile.
“Be quick about it,” the bluecoat ordered gruffly from the doorway. “We can’t be holding the wagon for you two.”
Shayne pulled his undershirt over his head and slid into his shorts. As he pulled on his pants he said to Lucile, “We’ve been framed, kid. Keep your chin up.”
“Sure you’ve been framed.” The cop guffawed from the doorway. “We shoulda warned you we was gonna pull a raid.”
Shayne buckled his belt. His first mad burst of anger had simmered down to cold rage. He picked up his shirt, turned to meet Lucile’s imploring eyes staring up at him from the edge of the covers. He said, tersely, “I’m sorry. We’ll get out and let you get dressed.”
“I’m staying right here,” the bluecoat growled.
Shayne started toward him with fists clenched. “You and I are going out while the lady gets dressed.”
“The lady, is it?” The cop grinned widely. “I s’pose the two of you are married an’ all? Didn’t even know this was a cat-house—”
Shayne was close enough to reach the policeman’s jaw with an uppercut. He put his shoulder and all his anger and sickening realization of the situation into the blow.
The cop’s head snapped back and his eyes went blank. Shayne gave him a shove and stepped out over his prostrate body, jerking the door shut.
Two policemen were herding disheveled drabs and an occasional protesting man down the stairs. They converged on Shayne and pinioned his arms, cursing him violently. He tried to drag himself free, but one of them snapped handcuffs on his wrist while the other knelt on the floor to help the bluecoat.
The door opened and Lucile looked out timidly. When she saw Shayne handcuffed she ran to him with a little cry and threw her arms around his neck. “What’s happening?” she sobbed against his undershirt. “I don’t understand — I don’t remember—”
Shayne said coldly, “We were doped and brought here, undressed and put to bed together, and then the cops staged a raid.”
One of the cops dragged Lucile away from him, thrust her forward toward the stairway leading down. “Cut out the stuff, sister, and get on down with the other floosies.”
Her brown eyes made a wild appeal to Shayne. He nodded and said, “Go ahead before these bastards manhandle you. I’ll be down.”
“You’re damned right you will. Start walkin’.”
Shayne held his handcuffed wrists out to the man who had put them on him. “How about unlocking these things and let me finish getting dressed? I guess I went kind of crazy,” he confessed ruefully.
The cop smiled good-naturedly and said, “Sure.”
The bluecoat whom he had knocked down was coming toward Shayne with his fists doubled and a snarl on his face. The other officer shouldered him aside and commanded, “Go on down and help load ’em in the wagon, Groat. I’ll bring this guy along.”
The officer unlocked Shayne’s handcuffs and said, “Go ahead and put your shirt on. I know it’s tough to get hooked like this, but hell! we’re only following orders. It’ll only be a suspended sentence for you guys that were here.”
Shayne went back into the room and put on his shirt and coat. He couldn’t find his hat. He took out his wallet. “How much would it be worth to get the girl and me off?” He drew a sheaf of bills from the wallet.
The cop said regretfully, “It ain’t that I wouldn’t like to, but it’s like this. They got that picture, see? And we had strict orders about pulling this raid. I’m afraid you’ll have to come along to court.”
Shayne fanned the bills out. They were all twenties and tens. “That picture is worth all this to me.”
“Sorry, Mister. I sure could use that scratch. But I couldn’t get the picture. That was a news guy that Captain Denton sent along with us.”
Shayne said, “I tell you it’s a frame. That girl doesn’t belong here.”
“I can’t help it, Mister. You’ll have to go along and tell it to the judge. Come on, we’re holding up the parade.” Shayne put the money back in his wallet and went down scuffed wooden stairs, through a parlor with paintings of nude women that looked dispirited and ghastly in the pale light of morning.
Shayne was greeted by a chorus of giggles from inside the patrol wagon. Half a dozen slovenly drabs sat along a bench on one side, and three men huddled together on the opposite seat.
He saw Lucile trying to smile at him as the rear door slammed shut and was locked on the outside. He sat down as the wagon lurched away and demanded of the women, “Which one of you runs that joint?”
A big-bosomed, hard-featured blonde said, “Madame Goiner wasn’t there when they pulled the raid. But we got nothin’ to worry about. She’s got a mouthpiece that’ll pay our fines like a slot machine hittin’ the jackpot.”
“Have any of you ever seen this girl before?” Shayne pointed to Lucile.
They all turned to look at her. A small, dark-eyed woman smiled and said, “You’re new at the house. Sorta fresh at this, too, ain’t you? Tough to have this happen the first night, but you’ll get used to it.”
When Lucile started to say something Shayne shook his head for silence. “The easiest way out of this is to keep your mouth shut,” he told her. “We’ve got no proof that’s worth a damn. The more fuss we cause the worse it’ll be.”
The patrol wagon came to a jolting stop and the barred doors were unlocked and swung open. “End of the line,” an officer said cheerfully. “Everybody out.”
Lucile clung to Shayne’s arm as they were marched down the walk. The other women were chattering and laughing cheerfully.
Lucile said tensely, “I don’t understand. How did we get there?”
Shayne said grimly, “It’s one of the oldest frames in the business — and the hardest to prove. We haven’t got a chance. Go on with the rest of them and don’t give your right name.”
They were herded into the court building and down a wide corridor to a dingy courtroom where a bored and sleepy judge was dispensing his particular brand of justice to the tag-ends of humanity dredged up from the city’s gutters during the night.
A yawning clerk sat beside the judge, making entries as each case was disposed of — a steady flow of drunks and pickpockets and every type of riffraff along the aisle in front of the judge’s bench.
A dapper little man rose smilingly to greet Madame Goiner’s girls as they took their places at the end of the line receiving sentences. He shook his finger at them chidingly, moved along with them laughing and talking.
Not more than 30 minutes elapsed after they entered the courtroom before the dapper little mouthpiece was standing before the judge and saying crisply, “I represent these unfortunate women, Your Honor. I desire to enter a plea of guilty as charged, inmates of a disorderly house.” The judge was a wizened little man with tired eyes. He smiled wearily and did not lift his eyes when he said, “You’re building up a nice clientele. If the women will give their names to the clerk, you may settle for all at once. Ten and costs.”
The women started giving names to the clerk. There was a stir at the back of the room. Shayne turned and saw Captain Dolph Denton making his way behind the railing to the bench. He reached the clerk just as Lucile said, “Josie Smith,” in response to his question.
The captain simulated a start of surprise and peered closely at Lucile. “You’re under oath,” he warned her. “Give your right name.”
Lucile tossed her head angrily, and Shayne realized that she did not know who Denton was. “I said Josie Smith,” she said tartly.
“Your Honor,” Denton said to the judge, “I happen to know that this young lady’s name is Lucile Hamilton. For the sake of the record—”
“Yes, indeed,” the judge said sternly. “Do you realize that I can hold you in contempt of court for falsehood under oath?”
Lucile shrank back and her face went white when Captain Denton pronounced her real name. She turned frantic eyes on Shayne. He nodded to Lucile and hoped she understood, then caught Denton’s eye. The captain smiled jovially and waved a friendly hand at Shayne.
“I’m sorry,” Lucile said to the judge. “I didn’t mean to be contemptuous, Your Honor.” To the clerk she said in a clear voice, “Lucile Hamilton is right.”
Denton stepped back and folded his arms as Shayne stopped in front of the judge. A cop muttered, “With one of the girls, Your Honor,” and the judge intoned, “Frequenting a disorderly house, guilty or not guilty.”
Shayne said, “Guilty.” He didn’t trust himself to look at Denton.
“Thirty days suspended next case,” the judge chanted, as though he had long ago discarded punctuation marks.
Shayne moved on to the recording clerk. Denton stepped closer, a sneer on his thick lips. Shayne looked at Denton and said, “Mike Shayne, Hyers Hotel.”
Denton smiled and moved to Shayne’s side. “It was smart not to make a fuss, shamus. Judge Roberts throws the book at a guy when he pleads not guilty.”
Shayne muttered, “I’ve never seen a slicker frame.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Denton smiled broadly at the compliment. “We do have our own way of fixing things here. Maybe you’ve forgotten.”
Shayne thrust his hands deep in his pockets and asked, “What’s the picture worth?”
“I haven’t seen it yet,” Denton chuckled, “but Kearny says it’s a honey.” His loud guffaw was obscene. “The two of you sitting up in bed like a pair of scared rabbits and naked as jaybirds in sheddin’ time. You were smart not to make me introduce it as evidence.”
“What’s it worth to you?” Shayne repeated grimly.
“Just for you to get out of town and quit horsing around. Two-thirty this afternoon is the deadline. It’s got to be run while it’s hot. It’ll be spread over tonight’s paper if you don’t play wise. With a story of how and when.”
Shayne kept his bunched fists in his pockets. “I’ve still got a case to break. Are you giving me Henri?”
“Hell, no. That was all a mistake. Forget that crazy story you dreamed up and get out of town. You haven’t got a thing on Henri.”
“I’ve still got Lucile’s testimony.”
Denton roared with coarse laughter. “One of Madame Goiner’s girls? That’ll go over fine in court. Don’t be a fool, Shayne. You’re whipped. Get out of town and leave me alone.”
Shayne’s gray eyes held a hot glint. “You don’t know me very well, Denton, but I think we’re going to get real well acquainted. I’m still on a case.”
“Have you seen this morning’s paper?”
“Better take a look. While you were out having yourself a hot time I was solving your case.” Denton walked away chuckling.
Lucile hurried across to Shayne. “Who is that man? How did he know my name?”
Shayne took her arm and steered her toward the door. “He’s a police captain here in the Quarter. Name’s Denton. I’ll tell you all about it after I see a paper.”
A newsboy had an armful of Times-Picayunes on the sidewalk. Shayne tossed him a coin and took one. When he opened it, a headline screamed at them:
Margo Macon Murder Solved! In smaller print, Shayne read aloud to Lucile: “‘A deathbed confession by Evalyn Jordan early this morning ended police search for the murderer of pretty Margo Macon in the French Quarter last night.’”
He stopped reading and folded the paper, took Lucile’s arm and led her toward a taxi. “You go straight to your apartment and stay there,” he ordered gruffly. “Don’t let anyone in and don’t be lured away by any telephone calls. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Inspector Quinlan said, “You look like something no cat would bother to drag in. What have you been doing with yourself?”
Shayne grinned, ran his fingers lightly over his bruised face and stiff stubble of red whiskers. He sat down and said, “I guess I’m getting soft. There was a time when I could take a few beatings and doped drinks in my stride. Your New Orleans gorillas are too much for me.” He spread the morning paper out on the Inspector’s desk. “What do you know about this?”
“Not much more than I read in the paper,” Quinlan admitted. “Have you read the whole story?”
“I glanced through it as I walked here.”
“Denton turned it into some good publicity. What actually happened seems to be that the Jordan girl got scared or remorseful and took poison. A routine call went to Denton’s precinct and he rushed out in time to catch her confession before she died. It was pure chance. But the news story reads as though Denton was relentlessly tracking her down when she took the poison. As though he cracked the case by smart detective work while the rest of us were sitting around twiddling our thumbs. I haven’t been able to locate the Hamilton girl,” Quinlan went on wearily, “to check that part of the Jordan confession dealing with what led up to the murder.”
“Her story checks.”
Quinlan cocked an inquisitive eyebrow at Shayne. “Have you talked with her?”
“Yeh. The Hamilton girl left Jordan and Macon together at ten o’clock. They had quarreled over a man — an old sweetie of Evalyn Jordan’s. He came to the apartment, not knowing Evalyn was there. Lucile left, thinking they were making up the quarrel because Barbara — Margo — was throwing the guy over. That’s why she went away and left them.”
“It’s confusing as hell,” Quinlan grumbled, “all those names. Let’s stick to Barbara Little for Macon. How did you locate her — I mean Lucile Hamilton?”
“In the telephone directory,” Shayne told him.
“We tried the Lucile Hamilton on North Rampart. She was out. Hasn’t answered her phone all night.”
“I was out with her.”
“Well, I guess that washes the whole thing up. To tell you the truth,” Quinlan continued, “I’d hoped her story might not jibe with the one Denton claims the other girl told him before she died. I wouldn’t put it past him to have made up the confession just to get the publicity and steal a march on my department.”
Shayne asked abruptly, “What have you got on Drake? And have you heard from Joseph P. Little?”
“My wire caught Little on the train you said he was on. He wired me he was changing trains to get back to Jacksonville and would fly, if possible, and reach here as soon as he could.”
“And Drake? Does he still claim to be the girl’s uncle?”
“Not only claims to, but it looks as though he is her uncle. He called New York as soon as he got back to his hotel last night. My man was on the switchboard and heard him receive the news that his wife had died yesterday afternoon. Not only that, but the nurse who answered told him that his wife’s brother was on his way to New York from Miami, and complained about not having an address where she could reach Drake.”
Shayne shook his head moodily and tugged at his left earlobe. “I don’t get it. I’ll be goddamned if I get any of it. Little must have lied like hell when he sent me here.”
Both men fell silent for a time. Shayne was the first to speak. “I guess that’ll all come out when Little gets here. Anything else about Drake?”
“Nothing important. He’s fairly well known at the Angelus from other trips he has made to New Orleans. The clerk isn’t positive about the time he picked up that phone message from his niece, but believes it was around one o’clock.”
“Which checks with his story.” Shayne lit a cigarette and asked, “Have you learned what he was doing up to that time?”
“No, but I think I know why he doesn’t want to produce an alibi unless he’s forced to. He’s one of those old boys who likes to hit the really hot spots. The ones where everything goes, and where a man doesn’t like to admit he has been.”
“Like the Daphne?”
“That’s one of them.” Quinlan looked curiously at Shayne. “You seem to get around for a man who’s been out of town for years. The fact is, Drake left the hotel early last night with a hustler for the Daphne.”
Shayne said, “Sure. It was Henri Desmond.”
“That’s the lad.” Quinlan’s perplexity deepened. “You weren’t kidding last night when you claimed to have your own ways of getting information.”
“Yeh, the hard way,” Shayne grunted. “One thing I don’t understand. How did Barbara Little know her uncle was in town and at the Angelus? He claimed he was looking for her, but didn’t make contact until she called him and left the message.”
A buzzer sounded on Quinlan’s desk before he could make any reply. He flipped a switch and said, “Yes?” into the mouthpiece of an intercommunication system.
A metallic voice floated faintly from the receiver. “There’s a man here to talk to you about the Barbara Little case.”
“Send him in.” He closed the connection and got up to walk across the office and open the door.
Shayne moved to another chair a little farther away from the desk as Inspector Quinlan admitted a tall, well-dressed man who said, “My name is Henderson — Security Insurance,” in a brisk, businesslike tone.
Quinlan glanced at the card Henderson gave him as he came back to the desk, said, “Sit down, Mr. Henderson. What can I do for you?”
“I’m here on the Barbara Little case,” he said, seating himself in the chair Shayne had vacated. He glanced at Shayne, and Quinlan explained.
“Mr. Shayne is a private investigator with a personal interest in Barbara Little.”
Henderson said, “Oh, yes. I believe it was you who discovered the body.” His eyes were alert.
Shayne nodded. “And thereby became the most important suspect until the Jordan girl confessed.”
“I just had a long-distance call from the home office,” Henderson told Quinlan. “They tell me we carried a large policy on the life of a certain Barbara Little, and asked me to look into the facts surrounding the girl’s death. It’s an unusual case, of course, and extremely important that we definitely establish the deceased as our policy holder. I understand she was living here under a pseudonym.”
“She called herself Margo Macon in New Orleans. Pseudonyms are quite common among those of the writing profession, however, which makes the case not quite so complicated.” Quinlan’s tone was quietly emphatic, as it had been when Shayne first met him.
“I’ve read the newspaper account of the affair,” Henderson explained, “but the home office had only a brief press dispatch for their information. What can you tell me about the girl?”
“Her father’s name is Joseph P. Little, a New York editor. That right, Shayne?”
“That’s it. I believe Mr. Little told me she was twenty-three.”
Henderson consulted a small notebook and nodded. “That checks. Daughter of Joseph P. Little, twenty-three on her last birthday.” He put the book in his pocket, took three cigars from his breast pocket and offered them to Shayne and the inspector. Quinlan accepted one, but Shayne said, “No, thanks. I’ll stick to cigarettes.” His gaze was direct and cold.
Henderson replaced one cigar and leaned forward to get a light from the inspector’s desk lighter. He said, “The only thing remaining, then, is positive identification of Margo Macon as Barbara Little.”
“That’s something you’ll have to discuss with Shayne,” Quinlan told him. “He’s the only one actually competent to swear that the girl known as Margo Macon was Barbara Little.”
“It’s a large policy,” the agent said, “and I understand the girl’s — ah — face was badly disfigured. We must have absolute and authentic identification.”
“She wasn’t smashed that badly,” Shayne argued, “and even if she was, positive identification can be made by three people. Her father, when he arrives; her uncle, who has known her all her life; and myself. I met and talked with her before she was murdered, and I had a photograph given me by Mr. Little himself. There is no doubt about it. I am positive that the girl whom I found murdered was the same girl I talked to and made a date with.”
Mr. Henderson said, “H-m-m. When do you expect the girl’s father to arrive? And where can I get in touch with the uncle?”
“Her father will arrive today. Early if he flies from Jacksonville but later, of course, if he comes by train. The uncle is here on the ground, and I can arrange for you to meet him here in my office,” said Quinlan.
Shayne asked, “Who is the beneficiary?”
“That I can’t say. I haven’t a copy of the policy. But I would like an affidavit from you, Mr. Shayne.”
“I’ll be glad to give it to you,” Shayne responded.
Mr. Henderson stood up and extended his hand to Quinlan. “Thanks, Inspector. I’ll get in touch with you later when I hope to have a conference with the father and the uncle.” He crossed over to Shayne and shook hands, saying, “Your affidavit will, no doubt, be ready sometime today?”
“How much did you say the policy was taken out for?” Shayne asked.
“Fifty thousand dollars, Mr. Shayne. Quite a large amount, you see.”
“Yes, I do see,” Shayne said slowly. “I’ll fix up an affidavit and leave it with Inspector Quinlan.”
Henderson said, “Thanks,” all around again and went out like a brisk breeze.
Shayne sat quietly brooding for a while, then said, “Fifty thousand dollars makes a hell of a good motive. I’d like to know who gets it.”
“Aren’t you satisfied with the Jordan girl’s confession?”
Quinlan shrugged his thin shoulders. “It’ll save the state the cost of a trial.”
Shayne said, “I’ll give you a ring around noon to find out whether Little is here,” and went out.
Shayne found a barbershop with two idle barbers staring disconsolately through plate-glass windows on either side of the door. He went in and slumped into the nearest chair. When one of them hurried to him with a patronizing smile, he said, “I want everything you’ve got except conversation.”
“Shave and haircut? Shampoo?” the man asked.
Shayne moved his head affirmatively. “And hot and cold packs behind my right ear.”
An hour later he pulled himself reluctantly from the comfortable barber chair. A Negro boy who was sweeping dropped his broom and hurried toward him with a clothes brush as Shayne put on his coat.
“Do the best job you can,” Shayne admonished.
“You bet,” the boy said, and went to work.
Shayne looked at a square piece of paper which the barber handed him. He took out a bill, and when the young Negro finished, Shayne put the money and the ticket in his hand and said, “Pay the bill and keep the change.”
“Yassuh, boss,” he said. “Thank you, suh.”
Shayne went out the door, made his way to a liquor store, said to the clerk, “A bottle of your best cognac. Wrap it up. Where’s your phone?”
“Right here, sir.” The clerk shoved a telephone toward him and went to the liquor shelf.
Shayne called Lucile Hamilton’s number, whistling a low, off-key tune while he waited for her to answer. Presently he said, “Hello, there. I’ll be up in fifteen minutes. I’ll bring half the ingredients for an antidote for doped Tom Collins.”
“What on earth—” Lucile began.
“You’ll see,” Shayne said jovially, and hung up as the clerk shoved a package toward him. He paid the bill and went out with a long-legged jaunty stride.
When he arrived, by taxi, at the neat brick building of efficiency apartments he paused in the tiny lobby to push a forefinger on Lucile Hamilton’s bell, and was ready to open the door with the first admission click.
The door of her apartment was open a crack and he went in. Lucile was propped up on the studio couch. She had changed to a blue satin negligee that brought out the copper shades in her freshly brushed brown hair. There were dark circles under her brown eyes, and her skin looked too pale.
Shayne said, “You look like the canary who flew the cage for a night out with a humming-bird.” He frowned immediately, noting the Times-Picayune spread out on her lap.
She smiled wanly. “You look as fresh as a dewy daisy,” she said, “and don’t say anything trite about compromising me. It wouldn’t be funny.”
“Not me,” he said. “I guess we’re already compromised to the hilt.” His gay mood was gone.
“What’s it all about, Mike? I’ve been reading the paper about Evalyn. And what about us? It was all my fault. I shouldn’t have listened to Henri — the louse! What happened last night?”
Shayne said, “It wasn’t your fault. I egged you on because I wanted to contact Henri. We made the mistake of walking into something we weren’t supposed to walk into. How about something to eat?”
“Oh, God! No!” She shuddered with revulsion. “I’ve got a splitting headache and my mouth tastes like I’d swallowed a dead rat.”
“Mickey Finns do that to you, but I’ve got something here that’ll fix us up.” He set the package on the smoking stand and took off his coat. “Any coffee in this dump? I told you I had half the remedy. The other half is coffee.”
“There’s plenty in the kitchen. I eat out a lot and don’t use much. But — don’t make any coffee for me. I can’t bear the thought of it.”
He called from the kitchen, “Pipe down. Doctor Shayne is prescribing.”
He found a small percolator, filled it three-quarters full of hot water from the faucet and set it on the gas flame, then filled the perforated top with coffee and returned to the living-room.
Lucile thrust the newspaper impatiently aside. “I’ll go crazy if you don’t start telling me things. Was Margo really Barbara Little, living here under an assumed name? Are you honestly a private detective?”
Shayne nodded to both questions, his eyes averted. “We’ve got lots of talking to do. Let’s save it to go with our coffee.” He tore the wrapping from the bottle of cognac, held it up to the light and said, “This is the best I could find in town on short notice. It doesn’t compare with Monnet, but it’ll pass.”
“Monnet?” she asked. “What’s that?” Before he could think of an answer she shuddered and buried her face in the pillow. “Honest, Mike, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to take another drink.”
Shayne swore softly under his breath. It must have been the vivid dream while he was unconscious that confused him. It was Margo who knew about Monnet — not Lucile. He went to the breakfast nook and set the bottle down, rummaged through a drawer in the adjoining kitchenette for a corkscrew. The percolator was bubbling and he sniffed the aroma of coffee.
After wresting the cork from the cognac bottle he took two cups from small hooks in the china cabinet and filled them with hot water. When they were thoroughly warmed he poured the water out and filled them half full of cognac.
He tested the coffee and found it to his liking. He poured it into the liquor until the cups were brimming full, then asked, “Will you have your coffee royal in bed or at the table?”
“I can’t,” she wailed. “It makes me sick to even think of food.”
“This is medicine,” he said sternly. He pulled an end table up to the couch and set a cup on it. “I know what I’m talking about. Drink it as hot as you can stand it.” He brought his cup to the smoking stand.
Lucile had turned on her other side and lay facing him. “It doesn’t smell so bad,” she confessed.
Shayne cuddled his cup in his hands. “It tastes better than it smells,” he assured her.
She took a sip and grimaced, then took a big swallow. “I can feel it spreading all through me.”
Shayne nodded. “When you’ve drunk half of it you’ll be ready for a cigarette.”
There was a short silence during which they sipped from the steaming cups. Shayne lit a cigarette and offered her one.
“Thanks,” she said, “I believe I can smoke one. Bring your cup over here.” She made a place for him.
“I’ll get a refill first,” he said. “Want a second?”
“Not after this. I don’t want to push my luck.” She smiled. The color was coming back to her cheeks.
Shayne returned with a fresh, steaming cup and made room on the small table to set it, then eased his lanky frame down on the edge of the couch.
Lucile said, “I feel warm and glowy. I feel like what-does-anything-matter — my job—”
“I had forgotten about your job,” he said. “What about it?”
She nestled her head against the pillows, “I don’t know. The phone has rung several times since I’ve been here, but I didn’t answer it at first. I must be psychic — when you called was the only time I answered.”
“You took a hell of a long time.”
She laughed. “I was afraid it was the office manager and I wouldn’t know what to tell him. How does one explain spending the night in a honky-tonk with a man — and doped at that?” Her lashes were curled up from her closed eyelids and her cheeks flamed.
“Don’t worry too much about that. There needn’t be any publicity.”
“But — we gave our right names to the clerk. And that picture—”
“The raid won’t be reported in the normal course of newspaper routine. The picture is nothing but blackmail. Denton won’t use it unless I force his hand.”
She propped her cheek on one elbow and reached for her cup. “You were going to tell me. Remember?”
“You’ve let your coffee royal get cold,” he said solemnly, as though she had failed in a sacred ritual.
She sipped the lukewarm drink. “I like it better this way. I always put cold water in my coffee.”
Shayne groaned and asked, “How much do you remember about last night?”
“Nothing — not after I drank half my drink. I was sort of nauseated when I went to the restroom, and felt woozy. I must have passed out.”
“Your Tom Collins was doped. I didn’t drink mine, but I was a fool not to notice the taste when I took a sip. I thought it was just the rotten gin they used.”
“What happened — after I passed out?”
“I don’t know what they did with you, but when I went to find you I walked into a blackjack. None of it was Henri’s doing,” Shayne went on honestly. “He asked you there in good faith. That is, he was frightened because your testimony and Evalyn’s might point to him as the murderer and he wanted to bribe you to keep it quiet. But he never had a chance to talk to you. Captain Denton spotted me and thought I was sticking my nose in where he didn’t want it stuck.”
“Oh,” she said, “Captain Denton,” and wrinkled her forehead.
“Denton has hated me for a long time,” Shayne explained. “I’ll tell you about it sometime. Yesterday he got the idea that I was back in New Orleans to stir up trouble for him because of his connection with Rudy Soule and the dope racket.”
“Do you mean that an officer of the law — a captain is mixed up in the dope racket?” Lucile’s eyes were round with wonder.
Shayne stared at her for a long time before he said, “Are you trying to kid me?”
Lucile’s brown eyes misted. She said, “Maybe you won’t believe me, but I’ve never come in contact with the police before. I’ve always thought they were people who protected the public.”
Shayne laughed harshly, but he laid a big hand gently on her covered shoulder. “You’re learning.”
“You don’t mean that Denton had me doped — and had you knocked out?”
“Yeh, that’s right,” Shayne told her. “Then when he learned that you were a witness in the Little case — against Henri — he was still more worried. It’s my guess that Denton owns a piece of the Daphne Club. When something like that gets tangled up in a murder investigation a lot of dirty linen is likely to get washed out.”
“Why did he — think up such an awful thing?”
“Because it was the smart thing to do,” Shayne told her with a scowl. “It cuts all the ground out from under us. In the first place, he’ll hold that picture as a whip to keep me in line. If I should choose to disregard it, let him publish it and let your reputation be damned, I’d still not be much better off. It would knock your testimony against Henri into a cocked hat. No one would believe a woman like that, and there’d be the added suspicion that I had connived with you to get you to testify that way. That’s why Denton had us caught in that raid together — that’s why he checked up and forced you to give your right name.”
Lucile said, “It must be terribly funny to you — remembering that I told you I learned the facts of life a long time ago.”
Shayne said softly, “No. It isn’t funny. I knew what you meant.”
Wriggling to a sitting position, she said, “You can forget about me and my reputation — if that will help.”
“It won’t,” Shayne muttered. “With Evalyn dead, there’s no one to corroborate your story. And even if it should be believed, what of it? It points to Evalyn as well as to Henri, and Evalyn has confessed.”
“Do you think she did it? I can’t believe it.”
“Denton got a deathbed confession,” he said. “That closed the case as far as I can see.” He went to the breakfast table and took a long drink from the cognac bottle.
When Shayne returned, Lucile was sitting rigidly upright on the couch. Her young face was tense with thought. “I’ve been thinking. From what you’ve told me, Captain Denton is thoroughly dishonest. Do you suppose he made up that story about Evalyn confessing?” She picked up the newspaper. “It says here that he was the only witness. No one else heard her confession. If he walked in and found her dying—”
“Or dead,” Shayne supplemented harshly. “Sure. Denton’s an opportunist. It would have been too perfect to pass up. But we haven’t any proof.”
Shayne paced the length of the room and came back to sink into the comfortable chair opposite the couch. He closed his eyes and massaged his left earlobe gently.
Lucile watched him, but said nothing. Perfect quiet was in the room until Shayne hunched forward and said, “I’m going to use your telephone.”
“You know where it is,” she said.
Shayne stalked to the instrument and called Harry Veigle. When a voice answered, he said, “Mike Shayne, Harry.”
“Mike — where the hell have you been hiding? Wherever it is, I hope you’re well hidden.”
“Is it that bad?”
“It is, Mike. Your prints are all over the bottle.”
“The girl’s, too. But there’s one thing, Mike — all the prints on the neck of the bottle are blurred. A smart lawyer might do something with that in court. Looks as if the killer wore gloves when he swung it.”
“No other prints?”
“Well — I did bring out another partial set,” Veigle said cautiously. “Enough for identification, maybe.”
“Can you bring them out clear enough to do any good?”
“Hell, you know how this experting goes. For a goodly fee I could point out reasons for believing the murderer made them. But I’m fairly certain they’re not a woman’s prints, Mike. According to the morning paper—”
“Yeh. I know. Get hold of Evalyn Jordan’s prints, Harry. Check them and call me back.” He gave Veigle Lucile Hamilton’s telephone number.
“You sure you don’t want me to ditch this bottle? A smart D. A. could make an awful lot out of it. I’ll smash it—”
“No!” Shayne said sharply. “Hang onto the bottle. Make enlarged sets of all three prints and call me as soon as you check with the Jordan girl’s.”
“All right, Mike,” Veigle said mournfully. “Monkey business, is it? But if you’re smart—”
“I’m not. I’m dumb enough to stick my neck out a mile.” He hung up and returned to the living-room, a set look of decision on his gaunt features.
“What’s happened?” Lucile asked hastily. “You look as though you’d had a reprieve.”
Shayne said slowly, “This may be it, Lucile.” He strode across the room and back pounding his hard right fist into the palm of his left hand. “If Denton faked that Jordan confession I may have him wide open. It may be crazy, but—” He stopped suddenly and stared at her. “Have you got the guts to play along with me? If I play my hunch and it fails, Denton won’t hesitate to use that picture. You’ll be publicly branded as a prostitute. Do you want to take that chance?”
She started to answer at once, but he held up his hand, said, “Wait — this isn’t any time for heroics. You don’t know anything about me — except that I’ve got you into a hell of a jam.”
She met his gaze squarely. “I think I know you better, Michael Shayne, than I’ve ever known any man.”
He said hoarsely, “Don’t make a mistake, Lucile.”
“I won’t.” Her eyes were shining.
He resumed his pacing. “We’ve got to decide right now,” he warned her. “There won’t be any quitting if I start. I can call it all off — let the whole thing go as it stands. Get out of town this afternoon — or I can take a long chance.” He stopped beside the couch and looked down at her. “And it’s just that — a long chance,” he warned her harshly. “I’ve got a wild hunch I can prove Denton deliberately faked Evalyn Jordan’s confession,” he went on. “There’s only one way to do that — by producing her real murderer. But — it’s only a hunch.” He emphasized the last sentence heavily.
“You’ve played hunches before, haven’t you?”
“Always. But that was when only I was involved. You’re in this with me — up to your neck. It won’t be any picnic if things go wrong. We won’t have a leg to stand on. It’ll be a stinking mess and you’ll be square in the middle of it.”
“You don’t think Evalyn killed Margo?”
“Then I don’t see that there’s anything to decide. There’s only one right thing to do.” She caught one of his hands and pulled him down to sit beside her.
“I’m not a child, Mike,” she said quietly. “And I haven’t any folks — no one who’ll be hurt by the scandal if things go wrong. I have to keep on living with myself. How do you think it would be if I said no, and all my life lived with the knowledge that a murderer may be walking the streets free because I was afraid to take a chance with you?” Her soft finger tips caressed the back of his hand. “You wouldn’t be very proud of me if I did that. It’s strange that what you think of me matters, but it does.” She laughed softly. “I’m not making love to you, but I’d hate myself forever if I forced you to do something for which you’d hate yourself.”
Shayne said huskily, “I’ve known one other girl like you, Lucile.”
“What became of her?”
“I’m sorry,” she said, and gave his hand a final pat.
He continued to sit on the edge of the couch. “New Orleans has been good for me. I’ve been here about sixteen hours, and I’ve been beaten up by the cops, arrested on a drunk and disorderly charge, accused of murder, blackjacked, Mickey-Finned, given a suspended sentence on a frame, and, by God, I feel fine.”
“And had your picture taken,” she reminded him.
“I needed something to wake me up,” he confessed. “Twenty-four hours ago I didn’t believe I’d ever be interested in another case.”
“I’m glad if I’ve helped.”
“You’ve helped plenty.” Shayne went into the breakfast nook to get the cognac bottle, asking, “Want some of this stuff straight?”
“No, thanks. That hot mixture was pretty insidious. If I had another drink I’d probably insist that you make an honest woman of me.”
Shayne took a drink and replied seriously. “A little while ago I was going to suggest that as a possible out if things go wrong this afternoon.”
Lucile laughed lightly. “It won’t be necessary. I feel completely honest.”
Shayne looked at his watch. The time was ten o’clock. “I’m going to make a long-distance call.”
He dialed the operator and said, “I want to get Timothy Rourke in Miami, Florida. Person to person.” He gave her Tim’s residence number and waited, explaining to Lucile, “Tim Rourke is a reporter who’s always played ball with me in Miami. If this story breaks the way I hope it will—”
He was interrupted by the operator. “Here’s your party — go ahead.”
“Tim?” Shayne said into the mouthpiece.
“Mike?” Rourke groaned. “You’ve been leading with your chin again. I might have known.”
Shayne said, “Shut up and listen. This is costing me money. Will your expense account stand a plane hop down here for an exclusive on a hell of a story?”
“Your hanging isn’t that important. You can give me your last words right now—”
“I’m not horsing. If your paper isn’t interested—”
“Who said I wasn’t interested? What about a plane?”
“Charter one,” Shayne said shortly. “It shouldn’t be more than a three-hour hop that way.”
“I don’t know about chartering one. The expense account may not stretch that far.”
“It’s the only way. I’ve got a deadline to meet. Yes or no?”
“Yes, if you say it’s worth it.”
“I’ve never given you a bum steer, Tim. Bring a picture of Barbara Little if there’s one around.”
“There is — one that we ran on the suicide scare.”
“Bring it. Call me from the airport the minute you land.” Shayne gave him Lucile’s number and hung up.
“Tim Rourke,” he continued to Lucile, “is a sort of ex-officio press-relations council. And God knows we’ll need all the drag we can get from the press if my guess goes wrong.”
“It won’t,” she told him confidently.
Shayne combed his hair with his fingernails, leaving it standing on end. “I’ve got two or three things to do,” he said. “Why don’t you try to get some sleep?”
“I won’t have to try.” She yawned prettily, patting her open mouth with her palm. “When I think of those poor wage slaves at the office, not knowing the luxury of a life of sin—”
Shayne said, “You’re a shameless hussy. If anyone calls for me it’ll be Harry Veigle. Take the message. He’ll tell you whether or not Evalyn’s prints are on the cognac bottle that killed Barbara. If not, ask him to meet me at Quinlan’s office with the bottle and prints at one-thirty.”
“What about that bottle? I meant to ask you when I heard you phoning before.”
“It’s the one we drank out of yesterday afternoon. I found it before the police did.” He put on his coat and hat and started toward the door, saying, “I’ll be back before Rourke can call me from the airport.”
“Where are you going, Mike? Not — into any more trouble,” she cried anxiously.
“God forbid.” He grinned. “I’m going to see if I can find a rat hole for Denton to crawl into if it comes to that.” He paused with his hand on the doorknob, stalked back to pick up the paper Lucile had discarded and glanced through the front-page story again. He asked, “What was Evalyn Jordan’s address?”
She gave him the street number and added, “It’s an old house made over into apartments on Ursuline just off Royal.”
Shayne dropped the paper and thrust his hands deep in his pockets. “Do you happen to know anyone else in the same building?”
“Yes. There’s another girl from the office living right next door to Evalyn — the corner apartment in the right rear upstairs.”
“What’s her name?”
“Celia Gaston. She and Evalyn were close friends.”
Shayne pushed his hat back and tugged at a lock of hair. “Does she live alone?”
“Yes, I’m quite sure she does. She’s much older than most of the girls in the office. Sort of an old maid. But she’s not there now — what on earth are you up to?”
“Not there? Are you positive?”
“Of course I am. She’s away on a two weeks’ vacation. She left last Saturday.”
Shayne muttered, “That’s a break I didn’t hope for,” and strode from the room.
Fifteen minutes later a taxi pulled up outside an old two-story stuccoed house on Ursuline just off Royal. The driver was a hatchet-faced youth with bright inquisitive eyes. He turned to ask his passenger, “This the place you want?”
“This is it.” Shayne took $5 from his wallet and gave it to the cabbie. He said, “Keep your motor idling. I’m going in and I may come out in a hurry. There’ll be another five for you if you’re ready to make a quick getaway.”
The youth’s eyes sparkled with avidity and curiosity. “Look, Mister, I don’t mind picking up some change, but I don’t want to get in no trouble. Ain’t this the house where that girl killed herself last night?”
“You won’t get into any trouble. You see, I’m a detective,” he explained, “and I’ve got some evidence cached here. The solving of the case will depend on whether I get away without being caught. So keep your motor running.”
“Jeez! A detective? Sure, Mister, I’ll be waiting.”
Shayne walked in a leisurely manner to the front door, opened it, and sauntered in. A wide stairway led up from a narrow hall, and double doors opened into a gloomy parlor. There was the stale smell of cooking odors and when he peered into the parlor the stench of tobacco and old smoke was in his nostrils. The windows were closed and the shades fully drawn. The only light was the pale glow through the shades.
Walking over to a large ash tray on a table beside a plush-covered couch, Shayne lifted the lid and scooped up a handful of cigarette butts and returned to the hall. He went up the stairs, and as he approached the landing a Negro woman emerged from a door on the left carrying a dust mop and an armload of soiled linen. She dropped the linen on the floor and went to a door across the hall. She was humming when she entered the room, leaving the door slightly ajar.
Shayne went on up the steps cautiously, sidled down the hall to the partly opened door and stepped quickly past it. At the right rear he stopped and looked at a square of white cardboard thumbtacked to a closed door. In neat script, he read, Miss Celia Gaston.
He bent down to inspect the lock, then took out a ring of keys and carefully selected one. It went in but would not turn the bolt. He tried another. The lock clicked and he stepped into a dark, musty room. He closed the door quietly, then went across to double windows and raised the shades a foot from the bottom. Enough light came in to reveal a primly ordered living-room. The furnishings were scant and worn. A long dark table against the wall was centered with a small reading lamp and decorated with painted sea shells and other bric-a-brac.
He looked around for an ash tray, but could find nothing to indicate that the occupant of the small apartment was a smoker. He took one of the larger sea shells, and after pushing the others about in careless disorder, carried it over and set it on the floor beside one of the chairs. He dumped the handful of cigarette stubs into it and crushed several of them against the clean pink sides, lit a cigarette and puffed steadily.
While he waited for ashes to form, he lit half a dozen matches, letting each one burn down about halfway before dropping them into the shell. He shook ashes in on top of the mess and continued to smoke furiously as he walked around and moved small things out of place. In the kitchenette he took a glass from an immaculate cabinet, ran water into it, emptied the water into the sink and turned the glass down on the drainboard.
Back in the living-room he crushed out his cigarette in the shell and lit another. He went through an open door into a small bedroom which was as neat and precisely arranged as the living-room had been. He lay down on the silken comforter, wriggled around and dragged out a pillow which he bunched up under his head. He let a few cigarette ashes fall on the comforter, then got up and went to the clothes closet.
He grinned when he found a large, empty cardboard hat-box on a shelf. He took it down, went to the bureau and rummaged through one of the long drawers and found an old newspaper which was used for a lining on the rough bottom of the drawer.
He wrapped the newspaper around the empty hatbox and with the package prominently showing in his arm went to the front door and inched it open cautiously. The Negro cleaning woman was singing in a deep resonant voice, but the words were indistinct.
He opened the door wider and thrust his head out to look down the hall. It was empty. The singing was coming from the interior of the second apartment to the left.
An ornate bridge lamp standing near the door caught his eye, one of the modern indirect lamps with a heavy glass reflector and a three-way bulb. He left the door standing open and backed up against the lamp, gave it a violent shove, and it fell to the floor with a shattering crash.
He heard a shriek from the second apartment to the left as he ran out and down the hall. The Negress burst out to confront him, her eyes rolling. She raised the dustmop threateningly and exclaimed, “Fo’ de Lawd’s sake, whut—” Shayne ran past her, hugging the package tightly in his arm, his free hand doubled into a swinging fist. The Negress shrank back against the wall moaning.
A shrill voice called from the hall below, “What’s the matter up there, Mandy?”
“Hit’s a thief, Miz Bradley. Stop him, Miz Bradley!” Shayne lunged down the stairway and bowled into a matron who stood transfixed at the foot of the stairs. He slammed out onto the porch pursued by two voices screaming for him to stop.
The cabbie had the taxi door open and the motor racing. When Shayne leaped in, he sped away just as the matron and the Negress reached the sidewalk, waving their arms and shouting, “Stop thief!”
Shayne sank back against the cushion and drew in a deep breath of relief. The driver raced around a corner into Bourbon Street, slowed, and turned to look at his passenger with a scowl of uncertainty and doubt.
“I don’t like this, Mister. Sure you’re a detective?”
“Of course I am.”
“Where’s your badge? Look, I don’t want to get in no trouble.”
“You don’t have to,” Shayne promised him. He took out a second five-dollar bill and said gruffly, “You earned this. Stop and let me out anywhere. And if you want to stay in the clear, go ahead and report the whole thing to the police right away.”
“Gee, I dunno.” He pulled up to the curb. “What you got in that box?”
Shayne grinned and said, “What I went after.” He slid out and walked rapidly up the street.
Around the first corner he disposed of the empty hatbox in a trash barrel and kept on walking back to Esplanade Avenue.
The area had a different appearance in the daytime, but he finally came to a high iron fence around a substantial old house surrounded with spacious grounds. A side driveway leading in had a sign reading Club Daphne over the arched entrance. He went on to the front gate and down a path between neatly clipped box hedges on either side to massive white columns guarding the front door.
He rang the bell and waited for a long time. He had his finger on the bell a second time when a narrow slot opened in the door at shoulder level and a pair of eyes peered out at him. He said, “I want to see Rudy,” and added, “Captain Denton sent me.”
The eyes disappeared after scrutinizing Shayne, and the slot closed. The double doors opened with creaking reluctance, and Shayne pushed past a wizened little man who blinked watery blue eyes at him. “I dunno whether I’d ought to,” he grumbled. “You sure Cap’n Denton sent you?”
“You know Rudy wouldn’t want me kept waiting. Where is he?”
“Upstairs in his office, I reckon.”
Shayne said, “I’ve been there before.” He went up a magnificent curving staircase, his feet sinking into thick carpeting with each step. At the top he heard voices at the end of a narrow hall leading into the left wing. Following the sound, he walked into the office where he had been an unwilling guest the foregoing night.
Bart sat in a chair tilted against the wall. He was eating peanuts from a paper bag, smacking his lips and crunching loudly. Rudy Soule sat behind the desk and stopped talking in the middle of a sentence as Shayne walked in.
Bart’s chair dropped forward with a thud when he saw Shayne. He wiped his mouth with the back of a hairy hand and got up slowly, smiling with simple pleasure. “Look who’s here, Boss. The redhead, come back for more.”
Rudy Soule put both hands flat on his desk and half rose from his chair. His upper lip twitched impatiently and his low-lidded eyes looked dangerously sleepy. “What do you want here?”
“To talk to you.” Shayne sauntered in without glancing at Bart who was tugging at a blackjack in his hip pocket.
“You want I should sock him, Boss?”
Soule said, “Sit down and eat your peanuts, Bart.” He sank back into his chair. “I’ve heard you were a stubborn son of a bitch, Shayne.”
Shayne sat down in a chair beside Soule’s desk. He grinned and said, “I guess I’m sort of slap-happy.”
Soule chuckled evilly. “I guess maybe you are at that.” He leaned forward and picked up a glossy unmounted print about four by five, flipped it over to Shayne. “I hear the Item is going to run that on the front page if you’re still around town this evening.”
Shayne turned the photograph over. Lucile had instinctively thrown her arms about both bare breasts as the flash went off, making it a perfect picture for newspaper reproduction. Shayne’s left arm was protectively about her shoulders. There was a look of abject terror on her face, while Shayne was snarling at the camera.
“Along with a transcript of this morning’s court record,” Soule told him, “it’ll make a juicy story even for New Orleans.”
Shayne nodded. “Mind if I keep this?”
“Hell, no,” Soule said generously. “We can get plenty just like it.”
Shayne pocketed the print, leaned back, and lit a cigarette. “If you’re smart you’ll pull away from Denton. He’s just about washed up in this town.”
“Not as long as he can come out on top with something like that picture.”
“That wasn’t a bad frame,” Shayne confessed. “But it wasn’t good enough.”
“You’re not going to make him use it?”
“I hope not.” Shayne spoke very carefully, choosing each word. “I don’t want to make him use it. There’s no sense in both of us dragging the other one down.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m warning Denton,” said Shayne, “that he walked into something last night. He pulled a boner.”
“That raid you got caught in?” Soule looked incredulous. He shook his head. “Don’t worry about Denton. He knows every angle.”
“I’m not talking about the raid. His mistake was hanging the Margo Macon murder on Evalyn Jordan.”
“I don’t get you,” Soule said.
Shayne looked surprised. “Hell, maybe you don’t, at that. Did Denton tell you the girl confessed?”
“I haven’t had much chance to talk with him.” Soule looked perplexed. “What are you trying to pull?”
“Nothing. I’m trying to give Denton an out before the blowoff comes. He’s got his neck away out on that confession.”
“You’re trying to give him an out? I thought you two hated each other.”
“I hate his guts,” Shayne responded promptly. “I’d give plenty to hang one around his neck and see him go down the third time. But hell, he’s got this on me.” Shayne patted his pocket holding the picture. “I’d be a fool to force him to use it.”
“Why don’t you talk plain language?”
“All right. Denton lies when he says Evalyn Jordan confessed to him that she killed Margo Macon.”
When Soule didn’t reply, Shayne went on. “He’s just dumb enough to think it was smart. The girl is dead and can’t deny it. Her suicide looked like an admission of guilt. She even had sort of a motive. It looked perfect — to take the heat off Henri, to make it easy on me to get out of town without quitting, to keep this place out of the headlines if the investigation went on and Drake was forced to use the Daphne for an alibi.”
Soule said thoughtfully, “I don’t know. If it was a plant it looks like a hell of a good one to me. How can you prove anything?”
“The fault with you and Denton is that neither of you know anything about this case. I was working on it before the murder. As soon as Quinlan let me go, I contacted the two girls who had dinner with Margo and got their stories. I’ve got a couple of important contacts here in New Orleans — undercover men. I’ve had a tail on the Jordan girl every minute. A sort of specialist, you might call him.” Shayne paused and his upper lip came back from his teeth as he contemplated the tip of his cigarette.
“What the devil are you getting at?” Soule demanded angrily.
Shayne leaned forward. “Just this. There was a Dictaphone planted next door to the Jordan girl’s apartment. I’ve got a record of every word that was said in that apartment from ten o’clock last night until this morning.” He leaned back and took a long drag on his cigarette.
“It sounds like a lot of bull to me. If you’ve got such a record and it proves the girl didn’t confess like Denton says, why come to me? Hell, you could ruin him.”
“Sure I could — and can. But if I hit him with that, don’t you know he’ll hit back? We both go down — and I’m not fool enough to take it on the chin just to get Denton.”
Soule tapped the tips of his fingers delicately on the desk. “I can see that. But if you’re telling the truth why don’t you go to him? What have I got to do with it?”
“Plenty. I think you’re smart. Denton’s bull-headed. Ten to one he wouldn’t listen to me. But you’re mixed up in this, too. If you’re as smart as I think you are, you’ll persuade Denton to take the out I’m going to offer him before it’s too late.”
Soule shifted his position. “Keep on talking.”
“Here’s the way it is: I’m going to pin that murder on the guilty person this afternoon. If Denton doesn’t make a retraction before then, he’s done. And that means I get to see my picture in the paper.” Shayne grinned humorlessly.
“That Dictaphone record doesn’t have to be used as evidence,” Shayne said slowly. “I don’t need it to prove my case. No one knows I’ve got it — except my assistant — and I can guarantee no one ever will know if you can get Denton to use his head.”
“I’ve figured it all out. Denton was the only witness when the girl died. He can come out with a statement saying that he’s been thinking it over and he may have jumped to a hasty conclusion. He can say the girl was hysterical, that she kept muttering Margo’s name and saying she was to blame, that she didn’t want to keep on living because Margo was dead. So he naturally thought she was confessing the murder.”
“Is that what did happen?”
“Ask Denton,” Shayne grinned. “One sure way to find out is for something to happen to me. I’ve got it fixed so Inspector Quinlan will hear that Dictaphone record if I don’t show up after lunch at his office.”
Soule snapped, “It sounds like a lot of hooey to me,” disgustedly. “Dictaphone records! That’s storybook stuff.”
“Maybe — but I think it’s a damned good idea. Anyhow, I’m telling you this flat: I’m arresting the real murderer this afternoon in Quinlan’s office. If Denton hasn’t played smart and fixed up a retraction by that time, it’ll be too late.” He stood up.
“Wait a minute.” Rudy Soule drummed on his desk, his half-closed, sleepy eyes staring. He asked, “Is it Henri?” without looking up.
“It doesn’t really matter to you who it is,” Shayne told him angrily, “but it isn’t the girl Denton framed.”
“How will Denton know you won’t spring the record after he changes his story — if he does decide to?”
“What good would that do me? And hell, he’s still got the picture and the court record.”
“They won’t be worth a damn in a few days. The papers would smell a rat if he held it out and then used it.”
“Same way with the Dictaphone record,” Shayne argued. “Denton can kill the effect of it by coming out first and changing his story.”
“I’ve got a hunch you’re bluffing,” Soule said slowly. “I don’t believe you had any Dictaphone planted there. It sounds like something you dreamed up.”
Shayne laughed harshly. “It makes a pretty good bluff. Think it over.”
Soule’s telephone rang as he turned away. He lifted the receiver and said, “Yes... Oh, wait a minute — I don’t—” then fell silent to listen. He then said, “I think maybe I know something about that. Shayne’s just been here. You’d better come over right away.”
Shayne paused near the door to light a cigarette and listen.
Soule’s perturbed eyes turned toward Shayne. “That was Denton. He smells some kind of a rat in a burglary report they just had from the apartment house where the Jordan girl died last night.”
Shayne frowned. “Burglars?”
“One burglar — a big redheaded guy. He was seen running out of the apartment next to the suicide room with a bundle under his arm. But they don’t find anything missing. It’s been vacant nearly a week.”
“That,” said Shayne, “is damned strange. Any clues?”
“A taxi driver phoned in a report on the same guy. He told the driver he was a detective and got him to wait while he went in. The guy came out running, rode away for about a block and then jumped out.”
Shayne said with heavy irony, “Maybe the damned house is haunted. After you’ve figured it out, meet me in Inspector Quinlan’s office at one-thirty.”
“You and Denton — and Henri Desmond.”
“I don’t like any of this, Shayne. If you’re trying to pull one—”
“The girl’s murderer,” Shayne interrupted him impatiently, “is the only one who needs to worry about meeting me in Quinlan’s office. One-thirty is the deadline. And you’d better have Denton primed to change his story on the confession.” He walked out.
Lucile Hamilton smiled when she opened the door of her apartment to admit Shayne and saw the large paper sack in his hand. Her brown eyes danced merrily and she said, “I bet I can guess.”
Shayne cocked his head and listened to a sizzling sound from the kitchenette. He sniffed the odor of broiling beef and felt an odd gnawing in his stomach. He said, “Two minds with a single thought. God, I’m hungry! There’s steak and canned French fries and stuff for a salad in there.” He handed the sack to her.
Lucile had changed from her housecoat to a dark-red frock with a brilliant pin on the shoulder and a flattering neckline. An apron covered the dress from a point slightly below the neck to the hem of her skirt. She took the sack and said, “I could only afford hamburgers, but I’ve got yams baking and a salad already fixed. Of course, if you’d rather have steak—”
“Food that’s ready to eat is what I crave right now. We’ll save that for another time.” He shucked off his coat and tossed it on a chair.
“You mean — we’ll have another meal together, Mike?” she asked, her eyes sparkling and her cheeks very red from the heat of the tiny kitchenette.
“I’ve been wondering,” she said, and hurried back to the kitchen.
Shayne looked around the living-room which had been set in perfect order and appeared to have grown larger with the studio couch made into a divan. He went to the bathroom and sloshed water on his face, scrubbed his hands, and wet his unruly mop of red hair and tried to slick it down with a comb he found in the mirrored cabinet. There were dainty guest towels arranged on a rod, but he took a damp bath towel from a rod beside the bathtub and wiped his face dry.
When he returned to the living-room, Lucile was setting the table in the dining-alcove. “Your Mr. Veigle called. He said the fingerprints were not Evalyn’s.”
“He is going to meet us at Quinlan’s office?”
“At one-thirty.” She went on arranging the silver, asking, “Did everything go all right?”
Shayne sank wearily onto the couch. “It’s still a long shot,” he said, “but I think I know what I’m doing. It’s too late to back down now. And, by the way, remind me to tell you something when it’s all over.”
“Oh — you and your secrets,” she flung at him. “What is it — tell me now.” She glanced through the arch and saw him stretched out on the couch. “What — no carpet slippers, Mr. Shayne.” She reached for the cognac bottle on the open china container and carried it in to him. “Maybe you’d better take a nip of this, since I have no slippers.”
“The perfect secretary,” Shayne sighed. “You get my messages right — and then this.” He grinned.
“You’re mean,” she chided, “taking advantage of a woman’s curiosity. Tell me what—” She sniffed suddenly and her curiosity vanished with an odor from the kitchen and she ran in to tend the dinner.
Shayne relaxed and sipped cognac from the bottle and reviewed the work he had done and that which was awaiting him. He decided there was nothing left now except to await the outcome. He had his hunch, and that was about all. He had never approached the end of a case with so little actual evidence, yet he had never approached the end of a case with such complete and satisfying certitude that it would come out right. It had to. He couldn’t be wrong. There was a certain pattern—
Lucile came through the archway carrying a small glass in her hand. She settled herself in the armchair opposite the couch and said, “I need a stimulant. I nearly had heart failure when I thought the hamburgers were burning.” She held out the glass, and Shayne reached a long arm out to pour it half full of cognac. She said, “That’s much too much, but I’ll drink it. I’ve always said that only a thoroughly disreputable wanton ever drinks before four o’clock in the afternoon.” She held her glass for a toast and said, “Here’s to the wage slaves who drudge all day in an office and sleep in loneliness all night.” Her laughter floated gaily through the room before she took a swallow of the liquor. “Everything will be ready in a few minutes,” she added sensibly. “I’ll bet you’re starved.”
“I am,” Shayne confessed, then asked, “Will you be back with the slaves tomorrow?”
“Oh, no. I’m not working any more.”
Shayne offered her a cigarette. “Did you resign?”
“By request — with two weeks’ pay. Wasn’t that nice of them? The office manager feels that there’s something essentially indecent about a girl getting herself mixed up in murder.”
“That reminds me,” Shayne said hastily. He reached in his pocket and brought out the picture Soule had given him. He handed it to her. “That’ll be on the front page of the Item tonight if things go wrong this afternoon.”
Lucile studied the photograph and unconsciously sucked in her breath sharply, but she said in a gay voice, “It’s a very good likeness, isn’t it — of both of us.”
She got up and went to the kitchenette, leaving half her drink on the end table.
Shayne got up from the couch, looked at his wrist watch, and went to the telephone. He called police headquarters and asked for Inspector Quinlan. When Quinlan answered, he said, “This is Mike Shayne. Heard anything from Joseph Little?”
“Yes. He arrived a few minutes ago by plane and telephoned me. I put him in touch with Henderson from the insurance company and they’ve gone over to identify the body. I promised to try and have you meet them here about one-thirty to sign that affidavit you promised Henderson.”
“I’ll be there,” Shayne assured him. “Say — how big is that office of yours, Quinlan?”
“What did you say?”
“I asked you how big your office is.” Shayne’s wide mouth spread in a grin close to the mouthpiece.
“Why, about twelve by fourteen, I guess. What the devil are you driving at? Drunk?”
“Sober as an Inspector,” Shayne told him. “You see, I’ve taken the liberty of inviting quite a few others for a one-thirty conference in your office, and I wanted to make sure there’d be room. There’ll be — let’s see — Soule, Henri, Denton, Drake, Little, Henderson, Lucile, Tim, Veigle — that makes nine besides us. Is there another office where we can gather?”
“Look here, Shayne,” Quinlan asked angrily, “what have you got up your sleeve?”
“Rabbits. White ones with pink eyes.”
Quinlan groaned. “If you’ve held out evidence—”
“I haven’t, Inspector,” Shayne assured him. “I’m doing a lot of wild guessing, and God help me if I’m wrong. There’s only one thing — will you arrange to have Edmund Drake there at one-thirty? He’s the only one who hasn’t been issued a personal invitation.”
“The girl’s uncle? Why, he’s to meet Little here. Little talked to him on the phone before he called me.”
“He did? So Drake was telling the truth,” Shayne said slowly. “How does Little explain the cock-and-bull story he told me in Miami?”
“I haven’t discussed it with him. I thought you’d want to do that.”
Shayne’s voice was grim when he said, “I do. One-thirty, then.”
When Shayne hung up and turned from the telephone he saw a platter of hamburgers in the center of the small table, flanked by a large wooden bowl of tossed salad and a dish containing three baked yams. Lucile came in with a bowl of gravy spiced with barbecue sauce and set it beside the platter. She apologized for baker’s bread, saying, “I’d like to have made cornbread but my oven’s so small I can cook only one thing at a time.”
Shayne said, “Don’t apologize,” and helped himself to a hamburger and ladled the sauce over it as she poured the coffee. He sniffed the sauce, then tasted it, raised his bushy brows and asked, “Garlic?”
“Just a smear. And lots of other things. It’s my own concoction. If you don’t like garlic—”
“I do,” Shayne said emphatically, and broke a hamburger easily with his fork. Juice flowed from it and he said unbelievingly as he tasted it, “Do they have a special brand of hamburger cows here?”
She laughed delightedly and sat down opposite him. “I call it poor-girl steak. It’s neck meat, the cheapest cut, and I have the butcher grind it twice with a little piece of bacon for extra flavor.”
“You’ve been wasting your talents in an office,” he told her as he speared a yam. He sighed with contentment and went to work with knife and fork.
They were relaxed over the third cup of coffee when the telephone rang. Shayne reached out a long arm and lifted the instrument and said, “Hello.”
Timothy Rourke’s voice answered him. “Just hit the airport, Mike. What’s the schedule?”
“What time is it?”
“Twenty after one.”
“The hell it is!”
“Listen, Mike,” Rourke said earnestly, “do you know of any openings for a good leg man in this town?”
“If your story isn’t a whingeroo there’s no use of me going back to Miami. Do you know what this trip cost the office?”
“It’ll be worth it,” Shayne told him. “Meet me at Inspector Quinlan’s office in ten minutes, Tim.” He gave specific directions and hung up.
“We’ll have to get started,” he said to Lucile.
“Sure. Didn’t I tell you you were invited?”
“Oh, no, Mike — I’d rather not.”
Shayne said, “Sorry. We’re going to need you for a quorum.” He pushed his chair back and stalked into the living-room.
“But why?” she wailed, following him in. “You know everything—”
“Well, for one thing, there’s an insurance adjuster trying to make an issue of the identification of the body. Tim brought a picture of Barbara Little and I want you to back me up in identifying her.”
“Oh — that’s why you asked him to bring the picture. I meant to ask you.”
Shayne had his coat on and was striding to the telephone. “I’ll call a taxi. Get your hat on and your apron off.”
When the taxi pulled up to the curb at police headquarters, three men were getting out of a tan sedan just in front of them. Shayne grinned at Captain Denton and asked, “Ready to go into your spiel?”
Denton’s only answer was a scowl. Shayne saw his black eyes narrow with surprise and speculation when he assisted Lucile from the taxi. Henri Desmond darted a frightened look in their direction, and Soule’s eyes glittered coldly beneath his odd, puffy lids.
Lucile gripped Shayne’s arm as they followed the trio inside. She whispered, “I’m frightened, Mike. Who’s the man with the evil eyes and the mustache?”
“That’s Rudy Soule. Hasn’t Henri ever told you about his big-shot boss?”
“I don’t think so. Are you sure—”
“I’m not sure of anything,” he answered blandly. “Keep quiet when we get in Quinlan’s office unless I ask you something.”
Soule, Henri, and the police captain stopped on the threshold leading into the inspector’s office. They went in as Shayne and Lucile came up behind them. Quinlan was alone. He said, “Hello, Denton,” and nodded curtly to Soule.
Shayne pushed in behind them and said breezily, “I suppose you know Rudy Soule, Inspector, but maybe you haven’t met Henri Desmond.”
Quinlan said, “I’ve heard about him.” He looked past Shayne at Lucile.
“Miss Hamilton — Inspector Quinlan.”
Quinlan nodded and asked, “The missing witness?” He had a harried look.
“She hasn’t been missing, Inspector. I’ve kept close contact with her since I left your office this morning.”
Quinlan said, “Little and Henderson are waiting for us in there,” indicating an open door leading into another office. He added significantly, “Henderson has heard Little’s story and is willing to accept it.”
Shayne asked, “Shall we join them?”
Captain Denton cleared his throat, glanced at Shayne, said doggedly, “I’ve got to tell you something, Inspector. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking—”
“Save it,” Shayne muttered, “until we can all hear you at once.”
Edmund Drake entered the office hurriedly, and Timothy Rourke dashed in behind him. Drake looked perplexed and wan as his red-streaked eyes darted over the little group filing into the inner office.
Shayne met Rourke with a wide grin and an outstretched hand. He introduced him to Lucile, then to Inspector Quinlan, explaining, “Timothy Rourke has helped me bust a lot of cases in Miami and I think he’ll help me bust this one.”
Quinlan nodded without enthusiasm. The others had passed into the conference room. He asked, “Is this the crop, Shayne?”
“Everybody except Veigle. You know Harry Veigle?”
“I know Veigle, but I didn’t know he was working on this with you.” Quinlan went on in a tone of suppressed exasperation, “What kind of monkey business is this, Shayne?”
“Let’s go inside,” Shayne suggested, “and I’ll do some explaining. We don’t need Veigle right away.” He gave Tim Rourke a little shove toward the open door, took Lucile’s arm, and Quinlan followed them into a much larger office.
There was a long bare table with chairs ranged around it. Henderson and Joseph Little sat at one end with some papers spread out in front of them. Denton, Soule, and Henri were at the other end. Drake stood against the wall just inside the door looking at his brother-in-law with tight-lipped disapproval.
Shayne drew a chair a little apart from the others and invited Lucile to sit down. He then moved toward Joseph P. Little, holding out his hand. The magazine editor wore his pince-nez and a harassed frown. His mild features showed strain and sleeplessness, but his collar was fresh and his bow tie primly in position. He put a limp hand in Shayne’s and murmured, “We meet again under the shadow of tragedy.”
Shayne held his hand firmly. “I’m sorry, Mr. Little. If I’d done my job it wouldn’t have happened.”
Little shook his head sadly. “I feel you did all you could.” He made a limp gesture of defeat.
The others were seating themselves around the table. Henderson shuffled some papers in front of him and said impatiently, “I’m a busy man, Mr. Shayne. If you care to sign this affidavit I’ve prepared—”
“Are you satisfied with the identification?” Shayne interrupted sharply.
“Perfectly,” Henderson said. “Mr. Little has made a definite identification of the girl as his daughter and has fully explained the peculiar circumstances which led to her adoption of a pseudonym.”
Shayne swung on Joseph Little and said grimly, “You have some explaining to do. Come with me a moment.” He led Little to the other end of the table to face Edmund Drake. “I believe you two know each other.”
Little winced at Shayne’s tone. He said, “Yes, we — how are you, Edmund?”
Drake said stiffly, “I’m very well, thank you.” Neither of them offered to shake hands.
Shayne said irritably, “I want the truth, Little. Why did you lie to me in Miami?”
The editor’s Adam’s apple bobbed up and down. He wet his lips. “I’m not certain I know what you mean.”
Shayne turned to Timothy Rourke. “You heard our discussion in Miami, Tim. Does Mr. Drake remind you of anyone described by Little at that time?”
Rourke came closer and carefully surveyed Drake. “Sure. He’s the menace Little warned you against.”
Joseph P. Little burst out, “He is, indeed. You must understand, Mr. Shayne, that I couldn’t bring myself to explain that he was actually Barbara’s uncle.”
“You made up the whole story,” Shayne snorted, “about him being a dope peddler and a threat to your daughter’s life.”
“Yes, I did. All of it except that last statement, Mr. Shayne.” Little appeared to grow in stature and his pale eyes glittered. “I sent you here to protect Barbara from Edmund Drake. I believed then that her life would be in danger if he found her. And I would believe now that he murdered her if the crime had not been confessed by another person.”
“You’ve always hated me, Joseph.” Drake’s tongue dripped venom. “You wouldn’t let us see Barbara because you knew she preferred her aunt and me — to you.”
“Yes, Edmund, I’ve always hated you.” Mr. Little took off his pince-nez and spoke quite firmly. “I’ve hated you ever since you married my sister and squandered her substance. You ruined her life — sent her to her deathbed with a broken heart and a wrecked body. I kept Barbara away from you because I didn’t want her to learn what a loathsome thing you really are.”
Drake’s flaccid features twitched. “You turned her against us — poisoned her mind against her aunt, who loved her like a mother. You exerted every bit of influence you could muster to force her to change the beneficiary of her insurance from my wife to you.”
Dead silence pervaded the room during the few seconds before Mr. Little said, “I did urge Barbara to change the beneficiary of her policy after Elizabeth took to her bed and it became evident that she no longer wished to live. Certainly I shrank from the sure knowledge that the money would do nothing for her, but would inevitably pass into your hands to be dissipated as you had wasted her small fortune.”
He stepped closer, shaking his pince-nez in Drake’s face. His anger gave him added dignity and poise as he resumed. “And, though I’ve been ashamed to confess the abhorrent suspicion, I have actually feared for Barbara’s life so long as that temptation remained before you. When you came through Miami and insisted that I give you her address, using your wife’s illness as an argument, I realized you were desperate as you saw that small fortune slipping through your clutches.
“It was then that I called you in, Mr. Shayne,” he continued, stepping back from Drake and turning to the detective. “I didn’t know what Edmund Drake might attempt if he were successful in locating Barbara under her assumed name. Perhaps I should have confided in you fully, but I could not bring myself to do so. By giving you his description and warning you against him I felt Barbara would be safe until her aunt’s death. After that the danger would be past.”
Drake started to say something, but Shayne cut him off. He asked Little, “Why — after her aunt’s death? Wouldn’t that clinch the insurance money for Drake?”
“On the contrary. I took the policy out while my sister was unmarried and it was made payable to her. Not to her heirs and assigns.” Mr. Little’s voice rang with incisive triumph as he continued. “I understand that Barbara was pre-deceased by her aunt by a matter of several hours. Ample time, Mr. Henderson assures me, to prevent the face of the policy from going into Drake’s hands. Were it not for that fact I should certainly have considered her uncle a prime suspect and would have demanded a searching investigation.”
Shayne nodded thoughtfully. He tugged at his earlobe and said dryly to Edmund Drake, “Maybe you’re lucky you didn’t have a motive.”
He spoke to those at the table, rousing them from complete absorption in the scene between Joseph Little and Edmund Drake. “I think we can go on with our business,” he announced. “Captain Denton, have you something to say before I get started?”
Captain Denton gave a start of surprise when Shayne addressed him. He looked aggressively around the table, cleared his throat, and muttered, “I didn’t know it was going to be a public meeting.”
“Every person in this room,” Shayne assured him, “is intensely interested in what you have to say.”
Denton squared his bulky shoulders and spoke directly to Inspector Quinlan. “I’ve been thinking things over, Inspector. I’ve been pretty much worried, thinking maybe there was a mistake made last night.”
“What kind of mistake?”
“In that suicide case. The Jordan girl. I think I might’ve — well, maybe I went off half-cocked. It’s been worrying me bad because it’s our job to see that justice is done no matter what we think about it ourselves.” Denton spoke in a self-righteous tone, and he sounded sincere.
“Go on,” said Quinlan impatiently.
Denton drew in a deep breath. “It’s this way, Inspector. The way it all happened, I might’ve jumped to a wrong conclusion. The girl was dying when I got to her, see? She was hysterical and kept moaning about not wanting to live because Margo Macon was dead. She kept saying it was her fault and that kind of stuff. So I — well, it sounded to me like she was confessing. And then she died without saying any more. But I’ve been thinking and thinking. She didn’t actually say she did it herself. Not in so many words. She could’ve meant something else. I just don’t want to have it on my conscience that maybe I was wrong and her confession cleared the real murderer — if it wasn’t her.”
“This,” Inspector Quinlan exploded, “is a hell of a time to be thinking about that. You might as well admit the truth, Denton. You saw a chance to grab some publicity and make my department look bad. By God, I’ll see that this is taken up—”
“Just a minute, Inspector,” Shayne interrupted smoothly. “It may prove that Denton’s mistake was just what we needed to crack the case. By giving the murderer a feeling of false security, perhaps he has made the mistake we needed.”
Quinlan turned his cold blue eyes on Shayne and demanded, “But what could have possessed the girl to commit suicide and say those things to Denton if she wasn’t guilty?”
“I think I can explain that.” Shayne looked at Henri Desmond. “Evalyn Jordan was in love with Desmond. God knows why, but she was. Desmond was playing around with Margo. He came to Margo’s apartment at ten o’clock, quarreled with her and threatened her when he learned she had another date later that night. Evalyn heard all that. She killed herself because she thought Henri had carried out his threat. Isn’t that a fact, Desmond?” Shayne’s tone was ruthless.
Henri Desmond shrank from the accusation. “I didn’t do it.” His voice cracked on a high note of fear. “I swear I never went back to her apartment.”
“Whether you did or not it explains Evalyn’s suicide. She saw herself as the central figure in an ugly scandal and murder. She was given to morbid spells during which she took dope furnished by you, Henri. You killed Evalyn Jordan just as surely as if you’d forced the poison down her throat.”
Shayne’s attention was attracted to the door, which was opening. A man came in quietly. He was well over six feet tall with a loose-jointed figure which carried an unpressed suit of clothes with the inelegance of a scarecrow. He had dark, saturnine features and deep-set, glowing eyes. He carried a paper-wrapped parcel under his arm and stepped forward to set it on the table with a thump.
Harry Veigle nodded to the inspector, who said with cold irony, “Come right in and make yourself at home, Veigle.”
“Thanks, Inspector.” Veigle grinned broadly as Shayne came forward to grip his hand. He complained, “It’s been dull around here the last few years without you, Mike.”
Shayne said, “That’s all over now.” He introduced Veigle to the others briefly, adding, “Mr. Veigle is one of the foremost authorities on fingerprint identification in the country. I’ve asked him here to make an experiment for me.”
He went to the table and unwrapped the empty cognac bottle which was smeared and crusted with the blood of the murdered girl. He said, “I have an apology to make, Inspector. I withheld this evidence last night after I found it in the girl’s apartment.”
Quinlan made a loud noise deep in his throat.
“I don’t blame you,” Shayne interrupted, “but here’s the way it was — if you’d got hold of that bottle last night I’d be in your jail charged with murder. It’s got my prints all over it — mine and Margo Macon’s. That right, Veigle?”
“That’s right. And one other set.”
“That’s what I had to find out,” Shayne went on swiftly to Quinlan. “I can explain how her prints and mine got on the bottle. We drank out of it that afternoon. But the murderer is going to have a hard time explaining how his prints got on it.”
From the other end of the table Denton scowled with black anger. “How’d you snatch it?” he demanded. “Where was it hid when we searched the joint?”
Shayne continued to Quinlan, “I discovered her body when I went to my room to clean up from the beating Denton’s strong-arm boys gave me. And I found this bottle. You can see where that put me. Right square behind the eight ball. Damn it, there’d never have been an investigation if I’d called the cops right then and turned this over to them.”
Quinlan said, “Keep on talking.”
“Veigle wants to make a little test.” Shayne looked slowly at the faces around the table. “He wants to compare your fingerprints with the third set found on the death weapon.” He turned to Veigle. “Got your stuff with you?”
“Sure.” He groped in a sagging side pocket and brought out a small tin case. He opened it and got out an inking pad and a dozen small rectangles of paper. “Pass these around and I’ll get the prints.”
Shayne started at the head of the table with Henderson. “Just write your name on it,” he said pleasantly. “That way, there’ll be no mistake.”
“I’m afraid there’s already a mistake,” Henderson protested austerely. “Surely I’m not involved.”
“Just for the record. We need enough extra samples to show there’s no hocus-pocus in Veigle’s comparisons.” Shayne passed on to Joseph Little and Edmund Drake. He paused beside Lucile Hamilton.
She turned a worried face up to him. “That bottle,” she whispered, “I remember Margo showing it to us. Do I — have to — sign my name, too?”
“I can’t force any of you to give us your prints,” Shayne said, “but refusal is going to look like an admission of guilt.”
Lucile shuddered and said, “Give me one — then.”
At the other end of the table Shayne grinned as he passed out slips to Desmond and Rudy Soule. “If you guys refuse, we’ll go take a look at the records.” He stepped back from the table. “I guess that’s all. Mr. Rourke was in Miami and I haven’t got around to suspecting Captain Denton or the inspector.”
There was tense silence in the room as Veigle moved from one to the other, deftly rolling their finger tips on the inked pad and transferring the prints to the slips of paper signed by each.
When he finished with Rudy Soule and started shuffling the slips in his hands, Shayne said hastily, “Why don’t you go in the next office to make your comparisons, Harry? You’ve got to be damned sure you’ve got evidence that’ll stand up in court — if you do find the right set here.”
Veigle nodded and said, “I’ve never lost a case in court,” and went out.
Shayne took a deep breath and said, “The fingerprints will only be the clincher. I think I know who the murderer is. I hope I can prove it.
“Two things about this case have puzzled me from the first: the telephone call Barbara made to her uncle’s hotel just before she died, and a photograph which was stolen from my hotel room at about the same time. That telephone message—” Shayne stepped closer to Drake. “You haven’t explained why she called you.”
“I presume she wanted to see me. I’ve explained how her father kept her away from her aunt and me.”
“But you claim you hadn’t contacted her previous to that call.”
“How did she know where to reach you?”
“I don’t understand that either,” Drake confessed.
“Be careful,” Shayne warned harshly. “Be damned careful, Drake. This isn’t any time for covering anybody or anything up. Your life or someone else’s may depend on the truth.”
“What are you driving at?” Drake twanged nervously. “Are you suspecting me?”
“Why not? Mr. Little has told us frankly that he suspected you might harm Barbara to get your hands on that insurance money. Fifty grand makes a hell of a good motive.”
Drake laughed shortly. “You’ve forgotten something. My dear brother-in-law also told you that not one penny of that money goes to me. My wife’s death before Barbara’s nullified the effect of the policy.”
“But, were you aware of that technicality?”
“Of course I was aware of it. Do you think I’m a complete fool?” Drake asked testily.
“No,” said Shayne, “I don’t think that. Knowing that provision in the policy, it meant a difference of fifty grand to you if Barbara died before your wife. Isn’t that so?”
“Well — yes. That’s the point I’ve just made.”
“And your wife was on her deathbed. You knew that. So you made a hurried trip away from home. You went to Miami and demanded that Little put you in touch with Barbara. He refused, but you knew she was in New Orleans and came here to locate her.”
“Those are partial truths,” Drake admitted. “I knew my wife had little longer to live. She wanted to see Barbara again before she died. I pleaded with Little in Miami to give me her address. But he refused his only sister that final consolation.”
“Yet your visit to New Orleans so alarmed him that he hired me to rush here and protect her from you. That’s a fact, isn’t it, Little?”
Joseph Little said, “It is,” with compressed lips.
“You’ve got one more chance,” Shayne told Drake slowly, “to explain the telephone message.”
“You still seem to miss the main point,” Drake said with dignity, “that at the time of the murder I had no possible motive. It was then too late even if, as my brother-in-law has charged, I had had such a plan. Good heavens, don’t you see? Elizabeth had already passed away.”
Shayne shook his head. “You’re the one who is missing the real point, Drake. You didn’t know about your wife’s death until after Barbara was murdered.”
Drake’s face blanched. He had left off his make-up, and his skin was gray and withered.
“That gives you a perfect motive,” Shayne went on harshly. “Now do you want to explain how Barbara knew how to reach you — or do you still believe you’re not the logical suspect?”
Drake shook his head laxly. “I can’t explain it. I don’t know.”
“Think hard,” Shayne urged him. “Your guide to the Club Daphne was Henri Desmond. He knew Margo Macon well. Did you have some conversation about your niece? Did you say anything to him that might have given him the idea you were her uncle?”
“No,” Drake muttered. “I’m sure we didn’t.”
Shayne turned to Henri Desmond. “How about it? Do you recall anything you might have said to Margo about Drake’s presence here at the Angelus?”
“I don’t know nothing about that,” he answered sullenly. “I got mad at her, sure. But I never went back. I can prove—”
Shayne turned from Henri and explained to Inspector Quinlan, “That point has bothered me. I realized there was a chance Barbara might have learned about her uncle through Henri. If she didn’t, there’s just one other answer,” he ended slowly.
Shayne took a cigarette from his pack, snapped a match on his thumbnail, and the sound was like a small explosion in the intense stillness of the inner room. He swung on Joseph Little and said, “That leaves you.”
The editor smiled wanly. “Are you joking, Mr. Shayne?”
“I don’t joke at a time like this. You knew Drake was in New Orleans. You knew he was at the Angelus Hotel — you phoned him there as soon as you hit town today. You saw a chance to drag him into it — to complicate the picture — so you had Margo Macon phone him just before you murdered her.”
“I?” Little exclaimed, frowning over his pince-nez. “Surely you’re not serious, Shayne. I was on the New York train at the time. Inspector Quinlan’s telegram was delivered to me on the train.”
“At two o’clock. On the other side of Jacksonville. Time enough, Little, to have flown here after I talked with you over long-distance — and after learning your sister was dead and the insurance would revert to you. Time to commit the murder and fly to Jacksonville in time to make that same train out and complete your alibi.”
Little said stiffly, “This is hardly the time for such preposterous and unfounded statements.”
“Timothy Rourke just flew here from Miami in a little over three hours in a chartered plane,” Shayne told him placidly. “It’s no use, Little. It’ll be easy enough to find the pilot and have you identified.”
Little threw up his hands in resignation. He said wonderingly to Inspector Quinlan, “Do I have to sit here and listen to such an infamous accusation? That I murdered my own daughter for her insurance!”
“Not your daughter,” Shayne corrected him. “A girl named Margo Macon. Remember? An unsuccessful writer who was ready to give up her writing and her life a month ago until a kindly editor gave her new hope by financing a trip to New Orleans — planting her here for a decoy marked for slaughter as soon as your sister died, to make the job worthwhile.”
Little was leaning forward, staring in incredulous amazement. “Do you know what you’re saying?”
“I’m saying that Margo Macon was not your daughter. Barbara Little committed suicide in Miami a month ago. When her body was dredged up from the bay, you refused to identify it, for that would have given the $50,000 policy to your sister and eventually into the hands of Edmund Drake. You let your daughter be buried in a nameless grave while you thought up this brilliant plan. You knew your sister could not live long, and all you had to do was pretend that Barbara was alive until after your sister’s death — to cause the money to revert to you.”
A series of sighs shook Joseph Little’s frame. “You have a remarkable imagination, Mr. Shayne,” he said wearily. “I can’t believe you’re serious.”
“The hell I’m not. What really makes me sore is that you picked me out for a stooge. You knew Drake was here looking for Barbara and you had to work fast. You sent me here to keep Drake away from Margo and to use me as a witness to identify the girl as your daughter after you’d mutilated her so that definite identification of the corpse was impossible. You gave me a photograph of Margo Macon, telling me it was Barbara. After killing her, you had to steal that photograph so no one who knew the real Barbara would see it.”
Mr. Little compressed his lips primly. His reaction to Shayne’s accusation was, apparently, complete boredom and annoyance. He said dryly, “I’m afraid you’ve been reading some of the magazines I edit.”
Shayne said, “Like most intelligent men who plan the perfect crime, you made a couple of mistakes. That phone call to Drake was one. Stealing the photograph from my room was another. You were the only man who knew I had that picture, Little. You were the only man involved who knew my room in the Hyers Hotel was directly across the balcony from Margo’s apartment. It had to be you.”
“Please, Inspector,” Little appealed to Quinlan, “am I compelled to listen any longer?”
Shayne turned to Timothy Rourke. “Where’s that picture of Barbara Little?”
“Right here.” Rourke drew a Manila envelope from his pocket. Shayne opened it and drew out an unmounted photograph. He looked at it, then handed it to Lucile, asking quietly, “Ever seen that girl?”
Lucile looked at it steadily for a moment, then shook her head. “There’s a slight resemblance to Margo, but I never saw this girl.”
Shayne took it from her and slid it down the table to Henri. “How about you?”
Henri Desmond said, “Never saw her before.”
Joseph Little took off his glasses and began polishing them. He said, “You’re smart, Shayne. Barbara did commit suicide in Miami a month ago. I couldn’t stand the thought of Drake getting his hands on that money. I did arrange to have Miss Macon come here where she was totally unknown. I planned merely to keep up the farce until Elizabeth died. After that, she could simply disappear. It wasn’t fraud,” he went on anxiously. “Payment on the policy was legally due the moment Barbara died. It was simply a stratagem to prevent Drake from getting something that was legally mine. My money had paid the premiums on that policy for a number of years. What had Edmund Drake done to deserve it?”
“You were worried when he insisted on coming here to look for Barbara.”
“Of course I was. I tell you, I knew he had murder in his heart. He was desperate — with Elizabeth nearing the end rapidly. I couldn’t stand the thought of harm coming to the girl whom I’d placed in danger. I was frantic with anxiety. That’s why I tried, in a veiled way, to warn you against him.”
Harry Veigle entered the room quietly. He had a large sheet of cardboard in one hand and one of the fingerprinted slips in the other.
Shayne asked, “How about it, Harry?”
“I’ve got it. There’s no question about it.” He laid the sheet of cardboard on the table. It held a blurred set of prints, greatly magnified.
Shayne sighed deeply. “Let’s have it.”
“This is an enlargement of the third set of prints on the death bottle. They’re still on the bottle for you to check, Quinlan. And here,” he laid the slip of paper beside the cardboard, “are the same set of prints.”
The slip of paper bore the neat signature of Joseph P. Little.
The editor shuddered and made a squawking sound. “It can’t be,” he cried. “Not on that bottle. It can’t, I tell you. I wore gloves all—” He stopped suddenly, staring around in stricken fright.
“That,” said Shayne, “is what we wanted to hear. I know the killer wore gloves. There weren’t any prints on her balcony or mine.”
Mr. Little’s pince-nez fell to the floor from his trembling fingers. He said dully, “I–I confess. I did it.” He put his face in his hands and began sobbing.
Shayne caught Rourke’s eye and motioned him to a far corner of the room. He said, “There’s your story, Tim. Sell it to the Item for a scoop and put it on the wire,” loud enough for Denton to hear, then lowered his voice. “And if it isn’t worth what the plane cost, I’ll make up the difference. I had to have that picture.”
“But the one he gave you in Miami, Mike. I saw it when he handed it to you.”
“Only a glimpse,” Shayne reminded him. “I remembered afterward that he was careful not to let you look at it. And if you wonder why I didn’t have Veigle take your prints with the others, Tim — I was playing with dynamite. I couldn’t remember whether you took a drink out of that bottle in Miami or not.”
Rourke’s sharp nose twitched. “You mean that’s the same bottle? The one Little drank from in your office?”
“Sure. That’s when his prints got there. The poor devil framed himself trying to put on a near-fainting act in my office. Go ahead and get on a phone, Tim. Call me later.”
Shayne looked around for Lucile. She was standing close to him, her eyes starry. Shayne lifted his brows. “Will I be there — later?”
She nodded emphatically. “You still don’t know what I can do with a real steak.”
Shayne went back to confront Denton and Soule on their way out. He said, “I guess this round was a draw, Denton. I’ll come out swinging next time.”
Captain Denton scowled. “Next time? I thought you were moving on after this was over.”
Shayne rubbed his lean jaw. “I’m beginning to like it here. I may open up an office and stick around.”
Lucile Hamilton’s eyes shone merrily as he rejoined her. “I couldn’t help hearing you. Are you going to open an office here?”
“If I can find a secretary.” He linked her arm in his and they left the building.
Outside, Lucile asked suddenly, “What was that secret you were going to tell me after it was all over?”
“Oh — I busted up a lamp in Celia Gaston’s apartment this morning, and I wish you’d make it right with her. And let me know how much.”
“A secretary,” she said softly, “always attends to little things like that for the boss.”