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Authors: Brett Halliday

Tags: #detective, #mystery, #murder, #private eye, #crime, #suspense, #hardboiled

Murder & the Married Virgin

BOOK: Murder & the Married Virgin
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Brett Halliday

Murder and the Married Virgin

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

IT WAS MID-MORNING when Michael Shayne walked into the small reception hall of his recently acquired offices on the fourth floor of the International Building in New Orleans. He scowled at the white light illuminating the room and accentuating the drabness of the furnishings. When he rented the two-room suite a month previously, the walls and ceilings were mellow with a smooth accumulation of dust and the residue from smoke, and he had zestfully searched through second-hand stores for suitable equipment. He liked old things. He had liked the walls and ceilings as they were, but before he could move his prized purchases into the suite an ambitious building manager had the ceilings painted white, installed long tubes of fluorescent lights, and redecorated the walls with creamy tints.

The oak railing in the reception room which partitioned off a space for a typewriter desk had been sandpapered and freshly varnished. Lucy Hamilton sat at the desk tapping her pencil impatiently.

She stopped tapping the pencil when her employer came toward the railing. Her brown eyes were bright with excitement. “It’s high time you—”

“What’s up?” Shayne shrugged out of his damp trench coat, dropped it on the railing, pulled off his hat and let a little stream of water trickle from the brim to the faded rug.

The telephone rang and she reached for it, saying, “The darned thing has been ringing all morning,” and into the mouthpiece, “Michael Shayne. Investigations.”

“I’ll take it in the inner office,” Shayne said, turning toward the door in the center of the reception room.

Lucy quickly covered the instrument with her hand. “You’ll take it here—you’ve a client waiting in there. A Mr. Teton of some insurance company is on the phone. This is the third time he’s called.”

Shayne frowned and reached out a long arm to take the receiver. He said, “Shayne speaking.”

A worried voice answered, “Mr. Shayne? This is Teton of Mutual Indemnity.”

Shayne waited for him to go on. After a moment the worried voice asked, “Did you hear me?”

“Perfectly.” Shayne fished out a cigarette with his free hand and stuck it between his lips, looked at Lucy and pointed to the end of the cigarette.

“I understand you did some work for our company in Miami,” Mr. Teton continued, “and since you’ve opened an office in New Orleans I wondered if you’d care to discuss an annual retainer with me.”

Lucy struck a light to his cigarette. He drew in a deep draft of smoke, nodded his thanks, exhaled slowly and said, “No. I don’t want to get tied up on another of those retainer deals. Any time you have anything hot I’ll be glad to discuss the individual case with you.” He hung up and said to Lucy, “A client, eh? Does he look like office rent?”

“I don’t know. He’s a young lieutenant named Drinkley. He’s been waiting half an hour.”

“A lieutenant?” he snorted. “Do you know the kind of salary our democracy pays lieutenants?”

“No. But he’s nice, and he’s terribly worried. You’ve got to talk to him.”

“Nice worried clients drawing a lieutenant’s pay won’t add up to your weekly salary,” Shayne told her.

The telephone rang again. “You’re awfully mercenary this morning,” she said and lifted the receiver. “Michael Shayne. Investigations.” She listened for a moment, said, “Yes, he’s right here,” and handed the instrument to him. Wrinkling her small straight nose she whispered, “It’s Mr. Teton again.”

Shayne growled, “Yeh?” into the mouthpiece.

“I guess we were cut off a moment ago, Mr. Shayne.” Mr. Teton was now both worried and apologetic.

“I hung up.”

“I see,” Mr. Teton said vaguely, evidencing that he didn’t see at all. “We were discussing the possibility of retaining you to do some work for us.”

“I’ll discuss it, but not on an annual basis. Your company stuck me on one of those deals two years ago. I got called in every time a butler lifted a silver salt shaker. No soap.”

“Yes—well—” Mr. Teton laughed nervously. “I quite understand your point of view, Mr. Shayne. The fact is, I have a particular case in mind. We’ve sustained quite a loss and we’d like to have you look into it.”

“Keep talking,” Shayne said. He settled one hip on the desk, winked at Lucy’s alert, interested face, then scowled at the clean wall.

“An emerald necklace belonging to a Mrs. Lomax has been stolen. Our coverage is quite large.”

“How much?”

“Ah—a hundred and twenty-five thousand, to be exact,” Mr. Teton moaned.

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” Shayne said with satisfaction. “I can be had for ten per cent.”

“Ten per cent? That’s pretty stiff.”

“Wire whoozit in your New York office,” Shayne said curtly. “Tell him Mike Shayne has wised up and has gone out of business recovering a million dollars worth of junk for a five grand retainer. Call me back when you’re ready to draw up a ten per cent contract.” He hung up again.

Lucy was leaning forward, elbows resting on the desk, her chin cupped in her hands. An amused smile tilted the corners of her mouth. “You
are
mercenary this morning,” she repeated. “I could hear every word he said. Whew! Ten per cent of a hundred and twenty-five—”

“It’s your fault,” he said bitterly. “I pay you eighty bucks a week and—well, hell, what do you suppose I thought—”

“Not having a lewd mind,” she told him sweetly, “I wouldn’t know.” She turned her face to hide a smile and the dimple quivered in her left cheek. “You have a client waiting, remember?”

Shayne gave a grunt of disgust and strode to the closed door, jerked it open and went in.

The inner office was spacious with large double windows on the east. Rain misted the glass, but bright light from overhanging tubes gleamed upon the fresh walls and ceilings. A large oak desk stood in the center of an old rug, with a swivel chair behind it. Two steel filing cabinets occupied one corner, and three new chairs upholstered in bright red leather were arranged in a semicircle in front of the desk.

A young man in an officer’s uniform jumped up from the center chair as Shayne entered. His blond hair was tousled as though his fingers had nervously trenched it. There were lines of strain or fatigue on his high forehead and around his mouth. His eyes were a smoldering blue in the dark hollows surrounding them. He stood very straight and asked, “Mr. Shayne?”

Shayne took three long strides forward, towering above the slight officer as he held out his hand. The hand he gripped was hot and moist. Shayne said, “Lieutenant Drinkley?”

“Yes, sir. I’ve just finished officer’s training at Miami Beach. I heard about you there, Mr. Shayne. That’s the reason I’ve come to see you this morning.” His voice was thin and reedy with emotion. He kept his lips clamped together when he wasn’t speaking, as though he feared he might scream.

Shayne shoved one of the red chairs closer to his desk on his way to the swivel chair. He said, “Sit down,” and went on around the desk and sat down. He studied his potential client through half-closed eyes, then said, “You couldn’t have heard anything very good about me in Miami.” He pulled out the top right-hand drawer and set out a bottle of cognac and two six-ounce glasses.

“Quite the contrary,” Drinkley said. “I met a reporter there, Timothy Rourke. He talked about you a lot.”

“Oh—Tim.” Shayne’s rugged face broke into a wide grin. He poured both glasses half full of cognac and shoved one across the desk. “We’ll drink to Tim, the lug.”

Drinkley didn’t look at the glass. He wet his lips and kept his gaze on Shayne’s face. With desperate intensity he said, “I want you to help me. Timothy told me about some of your big cases—the fees you charge. I can’t—I’m afraid I can’t—”

“Take a drink,” Shayne interrupted, “but take it slow. You’ll be needing a doctor instead of a detective if you don’t get hold of yourself. I never discuss a fee until I know what the case is. That is, hardly ever,” he added reflectively. He sank back in his chair, lifted his glass and said, “Skoal.”

For an instant the officer’s face brightened. He repeated, “Skoal. Katrin and I were to use that very word today—to toast our wedding.”

Utter dejection followed his words. His hand shook as he lifted the glass to his lips and drank until it was empty.

Shayne spun a pack of cigarettes across the table. “Light up. There’ll be a refill in a minute, but this stuff is ninety proof.” He sipped from his glass while his client lighted a cigarette.

“Katrin is—was my fiancée,” the lieutenant began in a low voice. He bit his lower lip and blinked his eyes rapidly, forcing a film of moisture on his lashes. “She committed suicide last night.”

There was silence in the office. His words lay there on the desk between them, hideous and awful.

Shayne let out his breath slowly, his gaze steady on the lieutenant’s agonized face. He muttered, “It’s time for that refill,” reaching for the empty glass.

“I’m all right now,” Drinkley protested. “I’m not much of a drinker.” The brandy swallowed so hastily made his voice thick. “It’s strange,” he continued, “but saying it out loud makes it real for the first time. I think I can face it better now. Katrin is gone.” He looked suddenly older, and his bowed head moved slowly from side to side. “I’ve been going around in a daze pitying myself.”

Shayne said quietly, “Tell me about it—if you want to.”

“I do. That’s why I’m here. I have only seven days’ leave, and we had planned to be married today. That’s why I can’t—” He broke off, drew in a deep breath and gave Shayne a shaky smile. “But that’s not what you want to know, of course.”

Shayne waited, sipping from his glass, when the younger man paused thoughtfully.

“Her name was Katrin Moe,” he said. “Norwegian. I met her six months ago while I was stationed here. We fell in love.” He made a helpless gesture and whispered, “Our love was fine and clean—like wonderful music. Like a day in the spring with the sunlight on clover and a breeze in the trees. It was like—oh, God!” he ended in a moan and covered his face with his hands.

Shayne finished his drink. His eyes were bleak as they brooded upon the young man’s bowed head.

Lieutenant Drinkley took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his eyes. He straightened his body and jerked his head back. Controlling his voice with an effort, he continued, “Katrin was working as a maid in a wealthy home here in New Orleans. She wasn’t ashamed of that. It was decent work, and they treated her well. She was studying hard for her citizenship examination. She passed it about a month ago and was so proud.”

Shayne poured himself another drink and motioned to the officer’s glass again. Drinkley made a firm, negative gesture. His eyes were clear and bright, lucent with a light that Shayne envied as he went on with his story:

“We corresponded regularly. I’m sure she was quite happy. There was never anything in her letters—absolutely nothing to indicate that anything was wrong. When she didn’t meet me at the station this morning I was disappointed, of course, but I thought she was just delayed. I waited around for a while and then called the Lomax residence. You can imagine the shock—when they told me Katrin was—was dead.”

Shayne frowned. “The Lomax residence?”

“Nathan Lomax, Katrin’s employer. Katrin had a room on the third floor. She and the housekeeper and another maid each had a room. They found Katrin this morning—locked in her room. The gas grate was turned on but wasn’t lit. She didn’t leave a note—no word for me. Nothing,” he ended with the hollow calm of utter despair.

Shayne sat tipped back in his swivel chair, shoulders hunched forward, staring morosely at the bare desk. Lieutenant Drinkley got up and walked to one of the windows and stood gazing out. He turned abruptly and said, “I know what comes to your mind. It’s only natural, but I swear to you as God is my judge I can’t accept the natural explanation, Mr. Shayne. I knew Katrin. I knew her mind and her soul, and both were as virginal as her body. Nothing can make me believe differently. I’m not being young and naive. You’ve got to believe me.” As he finished speaking he reached the desk, gripped the edge of it with both hands and leaned toward the detective with the blue fire smoldering in his eyes.

Shayne said, “I do believe you.” He had to say it.

“Then why, Mr. Shayne? Why?”

“You can’t be certain she didn’t leave a note for you.”

“But there was no note found, and her room was searched thoroughly,” Drinkley argued. “She knew I was on the train from Miami. She was in good health and happy—and young—with everything to live for. No one at the Lomax place—people who saw her every day—can ascribe any motive whatever for suicide.”

“And they’re sure it was suicide?” Shayne asked.

The officer dropped into his chair and interlocked his thin fingers. “What else can it be? She was locked in her room on the third floor and there was no other entrance. The key was on the inside, and there was no mark of violence on her body.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Find out why she did it. Don’t you see? I can’t stand not knowing. I’ll always think it may have been something I did or said, but I know it wasn’t. It was something else—something outside of our love.” He sat for a moment staring down at his clenched hands, a deep frown between his eyes, then he faced Shayne and said harshly, “I have a little money—the money we planned to use on our honeymoon. It isn’t much. A little over a thousand dollars.”

Shayne sprung his chair forward and rested his arms on the desk. He said, “Tim Rourke gave you the wrong idea about me, Lieutenant. He told you about the big cases where I was lucky and knocked off a pile. A private detective’s business is made up of little cases that keep the pot boiling. Give my secretary your local and permanent address and a check for fifty dollars as a retainer. If there’s any other expense I’ll send you a bill later.”

Drinkley stood up and combed his hair with his fingers, took his cap from a chair and put it on, said, “Thank you, sir. Are you sure that’ll be enough?”

“That’s my usual charge.” Shayne got up and put his hand on the officer’s shoulder. “Call me this afternoon after I’ve done some routine checking. There may be some questions I’ll want to ask.”

BOOK: Murder & the Married Virgin
13.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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